DETROIT -- General Motors employee pricing program helped the automaker sell more vehicles in August than in any month of 2008. But sales still were 20.3 percent below the level of August 2007.
GM sold 307,285 cars and light trucks in August, up 31.3 percent from July.
Trucks and SUVs delivered a big surprise for GM. Although still down from August 2007, GMs pickups and big SUVs turned in their best sales performances of the year. In August, GM delivered more than 80,000 full-sized Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups.
In fact, the Silverado was the No. 1-selling vehicle in the U.S. last month with sales of 55,765, which was far ahead of the Toyota Camry but still 17.4 percent behind August 2007 sales.
Gasoline is down about 40 cents per gallon since it peaked in July at just over $4 per gallon. That helped truck sales in August.
With the recent moderation of fuel prices, were seeing some relaxation of pent-up demand in pickups and utilities, said Mark LaNeve, vice president of GM North America sales, service and marketing. He said August was the fourth straight month that truck sales, as a percentage of total industry sales, increased.
On the car side, only four GM nameplates beat last years sales total, and two were low-volume models. Sales of Cadillacs redesigned CTS luxury sports sedan were up 50.9 percent from August 2007, to 5,867.
The Chevrolet Corvette saw a 47.4 percent spike, the Chevrolet Impala was up 21.4 percent and the Chevrolet Malibu gained 8.4 percent -- enabling Chevrolets total car sales to eke out a 0.2 percent increase year over year.
GM officials projected that the company's August market share would come in around 24.5 percent.
"Were not indicating or pretending in any way that the truck market is snapping back LaNeve said, but the numbers indicate that pickup sales have perhaps bottomed out. LaNeve also said that he thinks overall industry sales may have hit bottom in June or July.
"I think we saw the bottom and are going to start scratching our way up to numbers that are improving."
GM's employee discount program won't cost the automaker any more in incentive spending, LaNeve said. He said GM's incentive spend "will be stone cold flat with July." It will be up versus a year ago, but it's on par with Toyota's increase.
He doesn't expect the kind of sales payback in later months as when GM previously offered employee discounts in 2005.
The first month it ran back in 2005, GM sales experienced a 50 percent lift, he said, compared with an 18 percent lift this time around.
"So we've had roughly a third of the lift," LaNeve said. "Therefore I dont think were going to see as much payback.
And because industry sales have been so depressed, any kind of improvement in the market could eliminate any kind of payback in future months, he said.
Earlier today, GM said it extended the employee-level pricing discount program by one month through the end of September and increased the number of 2009 model year vehicles carrying the offer to boost sagging sales and clear out inventory.
The program, launched in late August, applies to almost its entire line-up of 2008 model year vehicles and has been expanded to include most 2009 model year vehicles at dealerships, including all Silverado and Sierra pickups, GM spokesman John McDonald said today.
GM's better-selling cars, such as the Chevrolet Malibu, Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac Vibe are also included in the extended offer, the No.1 U.S. automaker said.
Reuters contributed to this report