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Auto sales last year fell to their lowest level since 1998, with domestic automakers bearing the brunt of the decline. And the industry is bracing for a grim first half of 2008 because of the uncertain economy and ailing housing market.

Ending 2007 with their lowest inventories in years, it is unlikely the three Detroit-based manufacturers will resort to the king-size incentives they used in the past to reduce gluts of vehicles. Such blowouts produced short-term sales gains at the expense of the resale value of their vehicles and long-term damage to brand images.

Chrysler LLC, whose sales were off 3 percent last year, to 2.08 million, also ended the year with lean inventory, 438,000 vehicles. That was the lowest since 1994 and down from 538,000 last year, when Chrysler was twisting dealers' arms to take more vehicles than they expected to sell.

"A year ago we were building vehicles that dealers didn't order," Chrysler sales executive Steve Landry said. "Now, all the vehicles we build are dealer orders."

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