DETROIT -- Most of General Motors Co.'s 17 percent sales increase this month was in fleet sales. Sales to individual customers only increased 7 percent, while fleet sales increased 38 percent.
Sales to fleets represented 38 percent of GM's sales last month and a third of GM's sales so far this year.
“That's been driven by higher-than-normal rental sales,” said Steve Carlisle, GM's vice president of U.S. sales operations. “The rental companies held their vehicles longer than normal in 2009.”
But May was also the best month this year for sales to commercial fleets, Carlisle said.
GM still aims for fleet to represent a quarter of its sales this year, he said. Rental companies' restocking now should decrease fleet sales in the second half of the year, Carlisle said.
Jeff Schuster, lead forecaster for J.D. Power and Associates, said he agrees with Carlisle's reasoning.
“It's because the vehicles are getting old,” Schuster said.
He also noted that commercial fleet sales point to economic recovery.
GM's May sales increase included a 54 percent gain from Cadillac. Chevrolet rose 31 percent, GMC 28percent and Buick 37 percent.
Those four remaining U.S. brands have outsold the eight-brand “old GM” by about 110,000 vehicles through May.
Pontiac, Saab, Hummer and Saturn accounted for 100,000 of GM's nearly 773,000 sales in the first five months of last year, Carlisle said. This year over the same period, Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac sold 882,885 light vehicles.
So that means the four remaining brands have sold about 200,000 more units than they did last year at the same time, an increase of about 30 percent.
The industry clearly is stronger this year. Today's seasonally adjusted annual sales rate of 11.8 million cars and trucks compares with 9.9 million in May 2009. But the sales gain at GM's four brands outpaces the industry's 17 percent gain this year.