A return to leasing and fleet sales helped lift sales for General Motors Co.'s four surviving brands by 33 percent in February compared with the dismal economy in February 2009.
Including the four discontinued brands, GM's sales rose 12 percent last month.
GM gained from six new models, including the Buick LaCrosse sedan and Chevrolet Equinox crossover and Camaro muscle car. The three vehicles accounted for one in four of GM's retail sales for the month.
Sales of the Equinox more than doubled and were held back by short supply, Susan Docherty, GM vice president for sales, service and marketing, told analysts and reporters this morning on GM's monthly sales call.
Docherty said fleet sales more than doubled in the month to about 45,000 vehicles out of 141,535 total sales. On the same call, Mike DiGiovanni, GM's executive director of market analysis, said fleet sales will continue to rise through the spring.
Fleet sales to rental companies and commercial customers are an indicator of industry and general economic health. A year ago, many customers cut back or postponed orders for new vehicles.
Last year, GM was largely out of the leasing business as it struggled on the verge of bankruptcy and lenders tightened customer credit. Leasing accounted for just 2 percent of the automaker's sales in February 2009. Last month, that rose to 10 percent, Docherty said.
“We used to have leasing available on every nameplate,” she said. “The way we're approaching leasing now is very strategic, and there are certain segments that we need to be in, like mid-sized cars. But there's lots of other segments that you don't need to be in. We don't need to be peanut-buttering it.”
GM also reported an increase of more than $4,000 in the average retail transaction price of its vehicles compared with a year ago. The improvement was due partly to the automaker's concerted effort to reduce incentives in recent months and to the robust demand for its six newest vehicles.