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GM sold 9.09 million vehicles in 2006, down 1%

UPDATED: 1/17/06 9:55 A.M.

DETROIT (Reuters) -- General Motors' global sales declined by less than 1 percent in 2006 as strong growth in Asia largely offset a slump in the U.S. auto market, the world's biggest automaker said today.

GM sold 9.09 million cars and trucks worldwide last year, with 55 percent of the total sold outside the United States, the company said.

GM's sales in the United States, still the largest market for cars and trucks, dropped almost 9 percent to nearly 4.1 million vehicles, according to previously released sales data.

GM executives and Wall Street analysts have attributed the company's U.S. sales losses to a decision to scale back on unprofitable sales to car rental companies and an industrywide slump linked to higher interest rates and volatile fuel prices.

GM, which has cut 34,000 jobs from its U.S. factory work force, is slashing costs in North America in a bid to return its major hub of operations to profitability. It is targeting faster growth in developing markets like China.

In a statement today, GM said its sales outside the United States rose almost 7 percent last year to 4.9 million vehicles. Much of that growth came from China, where sales jumped 32 percent.

GM, which has a joint venture for car production in China with Shanghai Automotive Co., said that for the first time it sold more Buicks in China than in the United States last year -- 304,000 vs. 241,000.

With industrywide global sales estimated at over 67 million vehicles in 2006, GM had a market share of about 14 percent, compared with its share of about 25 percent of the U.S. market for cars and light trucks.

Japan's Toyota Motor Corp. last month said it expects to produce 9.42 million vehicles in 2007, a number that could allow it to supplant GM as the world's largest automaker.

Toyota's U.S. sales grew almost 13 percent in 2006, even as industrywide sales dropped by about 3 percent.

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