Chrysler LLC announced late Wednesday that it is stopping all vehicle production in the United States for at least a month.
All 30 of the carmaker's plants will close after the last shift on Friday, and employees will not be asked to return to work before Jan. 19.
Chrysler blamed the "continued lack of consumer credit for the American car buyer" for the slow-down in sales that forced the move.
The company ordinarily shuts down operations between Dec. 24 and Jan. 5. This closure would add roughly two weeks to that shutdown.
Chrysler is the third of the Big Three automakers to suspend operations for January. Last week, General Motors announced it was idling 30% of its North American manufacturing capacity during the first quarter of 2009 in response to deteriorating market conditions. That move will take 250,000 vehicles out of production. On Wednesday, a Ford spokeswoman confirmed for CNN that the automaker is adding a week to its normal two-week seasonal shutdown at a number of its plants.
Chrysler would not say how many fewer vehicles would be produced because of this shutdown. A total of 46,000 employees will be affected. They will be paid during the time off through a combination of state unemployment benefits and Chrysler contributions, but they will not receive the full amount of their working pay, a Chrysler spokesman said.
"Chrysler dealers confirmed to the company at a recent meeting at its headquarters, that they have many willing buyers for Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge vehicles but are unable to close the deals, due to lack of financing," the carmaker said in an announcement. "The dealers have stated that they have lost an estimated 20% to 25% of their volume because of this credit situation."
Auto sales have been hit hard by tight credit and the struggling economy. Overall auto sales in the United States were down 37% last month compared with November 2007. Chrysler's situation was especially bad. Its sales dropped 47%.
Chrysler's financing arm, Chrysler Financial, has tightened lending terms for buyers and earlier this year, it announced it would no longer offer leases.
The Bush administration has said it is working on a possible plan to throw the companies a lifeline using money from the $700 billion bailout approved by Congress in October, the Troubled Asset Relief Program or TARP.
"It's clear that the automakers are in a very fragile financial condition and they're taking steps to deal with it," White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said Wednesday. "We're aware of their financial situation and are considering possible policy options to provide assistance in an appropriate way. As we've said, a disorderly collapse of the auto industry should be avoided."
"The speed and severity of the U.S. auto market's decline has been unprecedented in recent weeks as consumers reel from the collapse of the financial markets and the resulting lack of credit for vehicle financing," GM said in a Dec. 12 announcement, citing a 41% drop in November sales.
Both GMAC and Chrysler Financial are trying to receive federal assistance under the TARP program. GMAC is affiliated with General Motors, which owns 49% of the finance company. The other 51% of GMAC is owned by a consortium of investors led by Cerberus, which owns Chrysler and Chrysler Financial.