Updated from 3:03 p.m. EST

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report

says auto sales fell 49% in January, while

Ford

(F) - Get Report

saw sales drop 39% and

Chrysler

saw a 55% decline.

Total industry domestic auto sales in January totaled 676,057, according to Chrysler. GM said the total represented the worst January since 1963, and noted that the annualized total would be around 9.8 million, the lowest in more than three decades.

However, GM and Ford both said they see signs that auto sales are stabilizing.

"We believe total industry sales including medium and heavy trucks were around 670,000 vehicles," said Ford analyst George Pipas, as all three Detroit automakers had January sales calls on Tuesday. "Annualized, we estimate January sales were somewhere below 10 million. That's a big step down from the December sales rate of 10.6 million."

The last time vehicle sales fell below 11 million was in 1982, when the total was 10.4 million, according to J.D. Power and Associates. Overall, Ford sees total 2009 sales between 11.5 million and 12 million.

All three automakers saw steep declines in fleet sales, which fell 81% at Chrysler, 80% at GM, and 65% at Ford. But unlike Ford and General Motors, Chrysler said its interest in restoring fleet sales is limited.

Many fleet sales are unprofitable, and "there's no reason for us for vanity to impress everybody with big numbers and big sales," said Chrysler President Jim Press. "When you allocate all the fixed costs over the fleet units, not all the sales are profitable."

By contrast, on the GM sales call, Mark LaNeve, vice president of vehicle sales and service, said the company has worked to improve fleet sale profitability, accepting lower volumes as foreign automakers "jumped in very aggressively at lower prices than we were providing." Nevertheless, "we like it at the profitability levels we're at now," he said.

Overall, Chrysler sales totaled 62,157 in January. Its retail sales fell 35%, compared with an industrywide retail sales decline of 30%. Inventory at month's end declined 13% from a year earlier to 359,980 vehicles, a 151-day supply.

The principal reason for the industrywide sales decline is the lack of credit, noted Steven Landry, Chrysler executive vice president for sales and marketing. "Consumer credit is horrendous," he said. "That's the biggest single issue on our dealers' minds today. Buyers are there, they are in the showroom, but it's very difficult to get them approved."

Ford said January sales fell 39% from a year earlier, but noted its retail market share rose for the fourth consecutive month. Retail sales declined 27%, while fleet sales declined 65% including a 90% decline in sales to rental car companies. Ford's retail market share for the month was 12.7%, up 0.3% from the same month a year earlier.

"We believe that we've seen stabilization in the retail business," said Ken Czubay, Ford vice president for sales and marketing. He attributed the increased stability to a stronger used car market, which "gives new car dealers confidence going forward;" a higher ratio of new to used cars on dealer lots and improved credit conditions.

The company said January inventories totaled 420,000 vehicles, down 156,000 from the prior year, as it continues to align production with demand. During the past 12 months, Ford's inventories fell by 27 percent as sales fell by 22%.

At GM, retail sales declined 38%, while market share remained around 21%, even as industry-wide sales for the month were about 6 million vehicles lower than in January 2008. GM's inventory stood at 801,000 vehicles, down about 11% from a year earlier.

Foreign automakers such as

Toyota

(TM) - Get Report

also reported

significant sales declines

. Toyota's U.S. sales were down more than 30%.