General Motors, the giant but financially struggling auto maker, reported a massive fourth-quarter loss Thursday as car sales fell to multiyear lows and the credit crisis made financing the company’s operation nearly impossible.

The loss came to $9.6 billion, or $15.71 a share, compared with a loss of $1.5 billion, or $2.70 a share, in the year-ago period.

The loss excluding special items was $9.65 a share, much worse than the $7.39-a-share loss analysts were looking for out of the company, according to Thomson Reuters.

“2008 was an extremely difficult year for the U.S. and global auto markets, especially the second half,” said GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner in a statement. “These conditions created a very challenging environment for GM and the other auto makers.”

GM said it lost for all of 2008 nearly $31 billion, or $52.32 a share. That’s compared to a full-year loss in 2007 of $43.3 billion, which included that year a one-time charge of $38.3 billion.

Revenue during the quarter fell to $30.8 billion, down from $46.8 billion from the same quarter a year ago, as auto sales fell to levels not seen since 2003. For the full year, revenue at GM fell to $149 billion, down from $180 billion from 2007.

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