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GM Downplays Incentives’ Role in Sales Gain

The big sales bump likely will push the auto maker’s overall market share up at least three percentage points to more than 21% from like-2010’s 18.2%.

General Motors enjoyed a U.S. market-share jump of some three percentage points in February, riding a second straight month of juicy deals and readily available consumer financing to record-setting sales results.

“We’re off to a fast start, as planned,” says Don Johnson, GM’s sales chief.

According to Ward’s data, GM’s February sales soared 46.4% on 207,028 deliveries, compared with like-2010 when the industry still was mired in an economic recession.

The big sales bump likely will push the auto maker’s overall market share up to more than 21% from 18.2% in like-2010, according to initial industry sales reports.

In January, GM rode the same strategy to boost its year-over-year share by more than two points to 21.9%.

GM’s February retail sales soared 70% from like-2010, for the biggest year-over-year gain in the company’s history. Fleet deliveries accounted for 22% of its total.

GM used an owner loyalty incentive to attract a wide swath of buyers, although Johnson downplays the discounting, saying the auto maker’s incentive spending as a percent age of average transaction prices finished the month at 13%, compared with 10.6% for the industry.

In terms of total incentives, says GM outspent the industry average by more than $1,300 per vehicle.

Johnson defends the company’s go-to-market approach against accusations it was returning to its old ways of discounting to grab market share. The old GM often built past natural demand to keep its factories running and then discounted heavily to clear excess inventory, a practice that contributed to its bankruptcy.

“When you look at our February results, there is clearly a lot more going on here than a mere incentive move of a few hundred dollars,” Johnson says.

“We continue to actively manage our inventories. We have a very disciplined process that ensures we not only maintain a healthy level but one that anticipates demand. We’re not out there with incentives to drive production.”

GM finished the month with 517,000 cars and trucks in stock, or roughly a 60-day supply.

Johnson says GM also is spending its marketing dollars more efficiently, such as advertising frequently with dealer groups and targeting specific customers. The auto maker has the same budget it had with eight brands prior to bankruptcy, but now spreads it over just four brands.

In addition, GM Financial, the auto maker’s new in-house lender, continues to gain traction. The finance arm is building lease penetration back to industry levels and snagging more customers with poor credit scores, Johnson says.

Leases in February accounted for 22% of the auto maker’s retail sales, compared with 15% in January and near-zero year-ago when its former financing arm was struggling with its own restructuring.

GM’s activity in sub-prime lending rose to 6.7% in the month, compared with an industry average of 6%, the auto maker says.

“Our February sales were exceptionally strong,” Johnson adds. “In fact, it exceeded our own expectations, so we don’t find it overly surprising that some of our competitors have begun (criticizing) our business, our performance, as a way of explaining their own performance in the market.”

Earlier in the week, Ford’s chief sales analyst George Pipas said the new GM sounds these days a lot like its old entity prior to Chapter 11.

Johnson says GM’s early incentive activity does not mean it will stay on the sidelines if competitors get aggressive later in the year.

“How we mix up the different elements of our marketing mix, that will be a part of our strategy to decide,” he says. “We plan on continuing to be aggressive and continue to be a major player in the market.”

GM posted big gains in each of its divisions. Chevrolet sales jumped 42.9%, led by the new-for-’11 Cruze compact car with 18,556 deliveries, and the Equinox cross/utility vehicle providing another solid month at 15,434, according to Ward’s data.

GMC sales surged 59% on the strength of the Terrain CUV’s 7,190 deliveries, and Buick deliveries soared 73.3% with the Enclave CUV accounting for 5,199 deliveries. Cadillac sales spiked 70%.

Johnson says a rash of snowstorms early in the month saw February get off to a tepid start, but “as the snow started to melt, people came out of their homes” and momentum built quickly.

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TAGS: Vehicles
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