GM Ends Upbeat Year With 7.5% Sales Rise in December

General Motors December sales
General Motors December sales

General Motors (GM) ended 2010 on an upbeat note, boosting overall sales 7.5% last month compared to a year ago, on a surge in consumer demand. Among its four core brands -- Buick, Cadillac, GMC and Chevrolet -- GM reported sales rose 15.5% from year-ago levels.

For the month, which had one less sales day than 2009, the automaker sold nearly 224,000 vehicles. GM said retail sales rose 27% compared to December 2009. Higher retail sales were offset somewhat by a drop in demand by fleet and corporate customers. For the month, overall fleet sales fell 17%, an outcome GM officials had anticipated in part due to strong fleet sales earlier in the year.

For the 2010 calendar year, total sales for GM's four brands increased 21% to 2.2 million, while retail sales rose 16% for the year. GM's four brands sold 118,435 more vehicles this year than the company did with eight brands in 2009, the company said, adding it expects to gain total and retail market share for the year.

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After factoring in sales of its former Saab, Saturn, Hummer and Pontiac divisions, however, GM's total sales for 2010 rose by a much smaller percentage -- 6.3% -- to 2.22 million, it said.

Best Month of the Year

"Our December results were very solid," said Don Johnson, GM's vice president for U.S. sales, in a conference call with investors shortly after the automaker released its sales results. "It ended up being our best total sales month of the year."

Among its remaining divisions, GM said sales at Chevrolet dealers rose 9% to nearly 148,000 vehicles, compared to a year ago, with retail sales jumping 21% -- the best sales month since August 2009, when the federal government's "cash-for-clunkers" rebate program was in effect.

GMC reported monthly sales of 42,159, a 35% increase from 2009 levels, while year-over-year sales rose 29%.

Buick sales in December remained strong. The division sold 17,095 passenger cars for the month, a 40% surge from December 2009. Overall, GM said, Buick sales soared 52% for the year.

Cadillac models were also in strong demand for the month, as sales rose 13%. For all of 2010, sales at GM's luxury-car unit were up 35%, GM said.

Johnson said GM expects 2011 to be a good year for auto sales, projecting the industry will sell 13 million to 13.5 million vehicles, compared to the 11.8 million automakers were expected to sell in 2010.

Fewer Customer Incentives

Along with improved sales, Johnson said GM is spending less on incentives to lure customers into dealer showrooms. The company spent a bit more than $3,200 per vehicle in incentives, down about $650 compared to last year.

The average transaction price for GM rose in December by almost $1,300 per vehicle compared to a year ago, according to statistics by J.D. Power. GM's result compares to an overall industry average increase of about $300, Johnson said.

GM was the first of the nation's automakers to release December sales figures Tuesday. Ford Motor (F), Toyota Motor (TM), Chrysler Group and other car companies are due to release sales data later in the day.

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