The latest wave of cut-rate financing incentives failed to help domestic auto makers match exceptionally strong year-ago levels, and they reported yesterday that car sales for the Jan. 1-10 period dropped by 8.3 percent.

The seven companies, General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Corp., American Motors Corp., Honda Motor Corp., Volkswagen of America and Nissan Motor Manufacturing U.S.A., reported combined sales of 174,954 cars in the United States during the period compared with 190,869 units sold in the year ago period. Nissan began producing its Sentra passenger car in Smyrna, Tenn., in late March.

The daily selling rate of 21,869 cars compares with 23,859 for the same period last year. There were eight selling days in both periods. The annual rate for the industry during the period was 8.4 million cars compared with a strong 9.1 million last year.

For the Jan. 1-10 period, GM's sales were off 4.3 percent from a year ago, Ford's fell 11.7 percent, Chrysler posted a 16 percent drop, AMC posted a 52.5 percent drop and Honda had a 29.2 percent decline for sales of its U.S.-made models. VWA was the only auto maker to show a gain in the latest period, up 3.5 percent from a year ago.