Nick Bunkley
Nick Bunkley
Staff Reporter - Enterprise

GM lets a convoluted statement do all the talking

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General Motors' January U.S. sales results on Monday looked a lot like the record-low temperatures across the Midwest for much of last month.

In other words, there were a whole lot of negative numbers.

What did GM have to say about its largest year-over-year decline in more than three years? Virtually nothing.

As of this month, GM has discontinued its monthly conference calls to discuss sales with analysts and reporters.

For a couple of decades, its executives would spend about 45 minutes at the start of each month going over the numbers and answering -- or sometimes dodging -- questions about its performance. On Monday, GM put out its numbers and mentioned toward the end of a convoluted press release that there were a lot of snowstorms in January.

The closest thing we got to hearing from a company executive was a quote in the release from Kurt McNeil, GM's vice president of U.S. sales operations, saying GM is "building long-term value for our customers."

The results left a number of questions unanswered -- because GM didn't invite anyone to ask them:

• Why did you do so much worse than the rest of the industry?

Excluding GM, whose sales fell 12 percent, other automakers combined for just a 1 percent decline. It makes sense that GM would suffer more than others when car-shopping weather is bad in the Midwest, but the snow and cold don't fully explain such a disproportionate result. Are Chrysler dealers better at shoveling?

• How are you going to get rid of all those cars and trucks under the snow?

GM's inventory rose from an 81-day supply at the end of December to a 114-day supply at the end of January. That means that if sales were to continue at the rate seen in January, it would take until Memorial Day just to get rid of the vehicles it has already built. Its inventory of more than 780,000 vehicles is approaching the territory last seen before the recession. By some measures, GM already has the highest incentives in the industry, so adding more discounts is not the answer.

• What's happening to your big pickups?

January was the second consecutive down month for the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. If GM's having trouble selling those pickups now, months after they were redesigned, things are only going to get tougher when the new F-150 hits the market later this year.

• Why aren't people buying the Volt?

GM sold just 918 Volts, 20 percent fewer than last January and the lowest monthly total in two years. Sales of its closest competitor, the Nissan Leaf, jumped 93 percent, to 1,252.

• Who bought that one GMC Canyon?

The Canyon was temporarily discontinued in 2012, but some dealers still have a few sitting around. GM sold just one of them last month. One.

You can reach Nick Bunkley at nbunkley@crain.com. -- Follow Nick on Twitter

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