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Higher truck deliveries offset GM's weak car volume

DETROIT -- General Motors' August sales were bad for market share but good for the bottom line.

GM's deliveries last month fell 1 percent, as booming sales of the company’s redesigned pickups and SUVs -- its most profitable models -- were offset by weaker crossover volume and another rough month for Cadillac.

Truck sales rose 18 percent amid surging deliveries of the Chevrolet Suburban (up 44 percent), GMC Yukon (up 101 percent) and other big SUVs, which were launched early this year as the first redesign in about eight years.

GM's full-size pickups also gained: Chevy Silverado sales rose 13 percent while GMC Sierra deliveries increased 10 percent. Ford F-series sales fell 4 percent while Ram sales surged 33 percent.

Brian Sweeney, Chevy's U.S. vice president, told Automotive News on Tuesday that Ram "continues to be extremely aggressive" with truck incentives, a common complaint of GM executives in recent months.

Overall, GM's light truck volume rose 4 percent while car deliveries skidded 9 percent in August.

GMC shines

GMC was the only one of GM's four brands to post an increase from August 2013, rising 10 percent. Chevy sales slipped 1 percent. Buick sales were off 10 percent, while Cadillac sales sank 18 percent.

While sales of the newly launched 2015 Escalade jumped 80 percent, deliveries of every other Cadillac nameplate fell by double digits, including the SRX (down 37 percent) and CTS (off 35 percent).

Cadillac sales through eight months of the year were 5 percent lower than the same period in 2013. Cadillac also slipped behind Audi in year-to-date sales in August, and fell to fifth place overall among all luxury brands.

In January, former Cadillac boss Bob Ferguson, who was reassigned this summer to his previous job as GM's head lobbyist, predicted that Cadillac sales would rise by at least 10 percent in 2014.

Buick sales were hurt by a 36 percent drop in sales of the LaCrosse sedan and a 12 percent slide in deliveries of the Verano compact.

Retail volume

Two-thirds of the way through a year in which GM has been buffeted by bad news from safety recalls, its retail sales are up 2 percent.

For August, GM's retail sales fell 4 percent, while fleet deliveries rose 9 percent.

Like several other automakers, GM ran a prolonged Labor Day promotion featuring 0 percent financing for 72 months across much of its lineup. GM also offered to defer the first three months’ payments.

GM today said its incentive spending as a percentage of average transaction prices was 10.4 percent, which it said was lower than Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group "by a significant margin," citing data from J.D. Power.

Weaker sales of cars and crossovers offset GM's big truck month. Crossover deliveries fell 13 percent on slower sales of the Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain. Car sales were down 9 percent.

Kurt McNeil, GM's U.S. vice president of sales operations, said in a statement that GM expects a strong fall selling season, helped by a better job market, tame energy prices and strong consumer confidence.

"Car-buying fundamentals like employment and energy prices are in good shape, consumer confidence has reached a post-recession high and business investment is increasing," McNeil said.

You can reach Mike Colias at autonews@crain.com

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