GENEVA -- General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said on Wednesday that he saw no sign that America's love for sport utility vehicles had suffered from criticism of their heavy fuel consumption or worries over safety.
Despite a 20-percent drop in GM's SUV sales in the United States in February, after record truck sales a year earlier, Lutz said the automaker still expected to sell about 1.1 million SUVs this year.
"I believe the anti-sport utility faction is trying to create the demise of the SUV by reporting its demise when in fact no such demise is taking place," Lutz told reporters at the Geneva auto show.
Some of GM's largest sport utility vehicles, such as the Chevrolet Suburban, the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon XL, all recorded a drop in U.S. sales of 30 percent or more last month.
Ford Motor Co. also recorded a drop in February sales of some of its most popular SUVs, although at a much more moderate rate. And Ford's new Lincoln Navigator and Lincoln Aviator both recorded stronger sales in February.
Wall Street analysts have said that the drop in GM's U.S. sales in February was due to the Presidents Day snowstorm that blanketed much of the U.S. East Coast, falling consumer confidence due to the weak stock market and war fears.
In addition, GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner said on Tuesday that automaker's consumer incentives, which helped GM gain market share the past two years, were clearly having less effect in luring buyers into showrooms.
Sport utility vehicles have been under a black cloud since a Hollywood group began running television commercials earlier this year charging that the gas they burned was helping fund Middle Eastern terrorism.
In February, the U.S. Senate held hearings examining the safety of SUVs shortly after the head of the U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration said he would be careful before buying some SUVs for his daughter.
Lutz said that GM's own market research shows that the "anti-SUV hysteria" is having little impact on consumers attitudes.
"If anything, the whole movement has had a hardening effect on the SUV buyer. (There is) absolutely not a smidgen of evidence that shows SUVs are falling out of favour," he said.
Sales of SUVs, key to the profits of Detroit's automakers, will still total about 4.5 million this year in the United States, Lutz said, or about 28 percent of total car and truck sales, forecast at between 16 million and 16.5 million.