DETROIT -- General Motors Co.'s worldwide sales fell 15.4 percent in the second quarter, as growth in its Asia-Pacific region helped lessen the blow of continued declines in Europe and North America.
The drop put the global sales falloff for the first half at 21.8 percent, GM said today, better than the 28.3 percent GM lost in the first quarter. Auto stimulus programs -- especially those in emerging markets such as China -- deserve much of the credit for sales improvements, said Mike DiGiovanni, GM's executive director of global market and industry analysis.
"In the short term, clearly the stimulus is driving it," DiGiovanni said on a call with analysts and reporters. But "we believe that the global 'Great Recession' is approaching an end."
GM estimates the global sales rate at 62 million units in the second quarter, up from its estimate of 58 million in the first quarter.
The automaker saw sales grow 37.9 percent in Asia-Pacific, the region that posted GM's only sales increase in the first quarter.
"Alarming, surprisingly good" growth in GMs China sales -- 61.8 percent -- spurred the Asia-Pacific increase, DiGiovanni said. That puts GMs share in China at 13.2 percent last quarter, up from 11.2 percent a year earlier.
GM's sales last quarter plunged 31.9 percent in North America, the biggest of four regions. That decline marked an improvement from the first quarter's 47.2 percent dive. Similarly, Europe's 20.1 percent slide improved from a 29.1 percent fall in the first three months of the year.
Sales fell 20.8 percent in the Latin America, Africa, Middle East region, or LAAM, for the second-straight quarterly decline in that GM division. That region was the only one in which GM's share did not increase from the first quarter.
"The Asia-Pacific economies are turning the corner," DiGiovanni said. "We clearly think recovery in the LAAM region is already underway."
The automaker estimates current auto stimulus plans around the world will add 3.6 million units in auto sales, 1.6 million of that from pull-ahead demand, DiGiovanni said. That includes 850,000 additional units in Germany, 600,000 in Brazil and 1 million in China.
Last quarter, Chinas overall industry sales grew 37.1 percent from the previous year, making it 29 percent larger than the U.S. market, DiGiovanni said. The U.S. market was 57 percent larger than Chinas in the second quarter of 2008.
Ive never seen such a shift in my life, DiGiovanni said.
One in five light vehicles sold worldwide was delivered in China last quarter, he said.
GM is waiting for the official start of the U.S. "cash-for-guzzlers" voucher program later this week to see whether second-half U.S. sales improve from their below-10-million sales rates.
"I think all the OEMs are having a difficult time this month," DiGiovanni said, noting soft demand while consumers wait for the program to start. GM is hoping for a 250,000-unit sales boost from the federal program.
"We're all at the starting gate, ready to go," he said. "The question is, will the consumers respond?"
Better than we expected
Last quarter included most of GM's 39-day bankruptcy, which the company exited July 10. The second and third quarter have also included shutdowns of up to nine weeks at 13 of its North American plants, amid U.S. sales at their lowest rate in more than a quarter century.
Frankly, we did better than we expected during the bankruptcy, DiGiovanni said. Its been like playing with one hand tied behind your back for the past nine or ten months.
The bankruptcy didnt effect sales much in LAAM or the Asia-Pacific region, he said.
Jonathan Browning, GMs vice president for global sales, service and marketing, attributed that to worldwide dealers explanations about GMs restructuring in bankrupcty.
Bankruptcy is more normally associated with liquidations outside the U.S., he said.
The new GM is phasing out or selling four of its eight U.S. brands, leaving it with Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC. It is also selling its European Opel brand and received three binding bids on Monday for that business.
GMs annual totals fell 10.8 percent last year as the automaker ended its 77-year claim as the world's largest automaker and ceded the title to Toyota Motor Corp. As of 2007, Automotive News ranked Toyota No. 1 in worldwide sales. In that year, GM included 516,435 Wuling brand vehicles in its global tally. But GM owns only 34 percent of the Chinese company that builds Wuling, and Automotive News counts only sales of majority-owned subsidiaries in an automaker's global total.
Jamie LaReau and Reuters contributed to this report