Thinking Tech

General Motors March, Q1 sales soared - in China (and here)

General Motors March, Q1 sales soared - in China (and here)

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While its financial health is still far from assured, GM has reasons to celebrate based on soaring March and first quarter sales.

It's way to early to pop open the champagne and declare GM financially healthy or even stable, but March sales figures leave room for optimism.

GM's March sales in the U.S. were up 43 per cent over its March, 2009. An even more interesting statistic is that dealer inventory at U.S. dealers was down 338,000 units to 428,000. Suffice it to say, the company was swamped with unsold vehicles last year because consumers feared they'd be stuck with  warranties that might not be honored and possibly orphaned GM models.

The story now for GM is not the U.S., though. It's China where it sold 230,048 vehicles in the first quarter compared to 185,406 vehicles in the U.S. Keep in mind, GM's cars in China are from joint ventures so revenues are not exclusively recorded on its books. Here's the canned quote from a GM official explaining the success in China.

"We have seen particularly strong interest in GM’s newest passenger car models, the Chevrolet Cruze, Chevrolet New Sail and Buick Excelle XT,” said Kevin Wale, President and Managing Director of the GM China Group. “This is a clear indicator that many consumers across the country – especially first-time car buyers – are placing smaller, more fuel-efficient products at the top of their shopping lists.”

A year ago might have been lowest point in the company's 100-year-old history, but fears that GM is going away have subsided and sales have soared. How good was the first quarter and how bad was last year? Well, GM sold 623,546 vehicles, a jump of 71.4 per cent over the abysmal first quarter in 2009.

GM CFO Chris Liddell

Here's what GM reported in the U.S.

Chevrolet - total sales up 41 percent;  retail sales up 24 percent; Chevrolet Equinox retail sales increased 225 percent; Camaro recorded its highest level of retail sales (8,267) since it was launched 12 months ago.
Buick - total sales up 76 percent; retail sales up 34 percent; Buick LaCrosse retail sales rose 144 percent.

GMC - total sales up 45 percent; retail sales up 43 percent; GMC Terrain retail sales were up 425 percent (compared to the Pontiac Torrent – the vehicle it replaced).

Cadillac - total sales up 42 percent; retail sales up 18 percent; Cadillac SRX retail sales were up 508 percent.

Combined Total and Retail sales for Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac have increased year-over-year for six straight months.

Despite the progress, GM is not anywhere close to declaring itself out of the woods financially even though both its CEO and CFO have promised a return to profitability this year.

GM CFO Chris Liddell today reported a loss of $4.3 billion from July-December and had $36 billion of cash on hand, mostly from its $50 billion government rescue plan, according to a story at Detnews.com. GM has lost $88 billion since 2004 and according to a story in the WSJ still has to fund pensions to the tune of $12.3 billion between now and 2014.

"We still have a long way to go," before going public, Liddell said today in the Detnews.com story.

The good news is that GM appears to be close to having the right right brands and model lineup. And the long awaited Chevy Volt electric vehicle (still a hybrid in my book) is slated to arrive in dealer showrooms in November.

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John Dodge

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor John Dodge has written for the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, PC Week (now eWeek), EDN, Design News, Electronic Business, Bio-IT World, Health-IT World, Lowell Sun, Haverhill Gazette and Newburyport Daily News. He is based in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure