Spring may be bringing warmer weather to much of the country, but it's apparently doing very little to thaw a frozen market for new cars. The three biggest U.S. automakers all posted huge declines in March sales compared with last year.

General Motors (GM) said sales fell 45 percent last month compared with a year ago. At Ford (F), sales plunged 41 percent, and Chrysler reported a 39 percent drop. The big Japanese automakers fared little better.

March had all the makings of another dismal month for U.S. auto sales: Unemployment is rising, there's no bottom in sight for home prices, and even stocks' recent rally hasn't come close to erasing this year's losses. Then there's the desperate state of the automakers themselves: GM faces a government-mandated break up and Chrysler is under orders to make a deal with Italian automaker Fiat.

Ford may be widely regarded as the healthiest of the "Detroit Three" and the only one not currently on life support, but evidently that hasn't helped them overcome the recession's downward pull on sales.

Among Japanese car companies, Nissan said March sales fell 38 percent and Toyota reported a 39 percent decline in sales. Honda's sales dropped 36 percent last month, the company said.

The smaller players in the U.S. market also released their March figures. Subaru reported March sales fell 2.6 percent from last year. Strong demand for its Forester SUV blunted a big decline among its smaller cars. And Volkswagon said it sold 19.5 percent fewer cars last month than a year earlier, with its Jetta, Rabbit and Passat models all seeing big declines.

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