DETROIT -- Last week, Mark Reuss delivered some good news to his boss, General Motors CEO Dan Akerson: GM was about to report more than 25,000 Chevrolet Cruze sales for April. Retail sales of 18,470 nearly tripled the number of Chevy Cobalts -- the Cruze's predecessor -- that GM sold in April 2010.
As GM's president of North America and a company lifer, Reuss is getting used to the idea that a market shift from big vehicles to cars can actually be a good thing for GM.
"I've never been in our company where we've had car momentum like this," Reuss told Automotive News last week. "It's always been trucks, trucks, trucks."
That's changing. Customers are looking to smaller cars as gasoline prices top $4 a gallon. Now GM has a competitive small car, and more are on the way.
GM's car sales soared 48 percent last month, against a 2 percent increase for its full-sized pickups. GM's overall April sales rose 27 percent, vs. the industry's 18 percent increase.
Vehicle shortages stemming from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan are expected to open a window for GM to penetrate the car market further.
Reuss says GM has not increased output to take advantage of rivals' capacity constraints. But he concedes that, "just by the math," there is an opening to attract new customers.
"It's sort of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us, I think, to get people into our cars and trucks," Reuss said.
But that would require enough capacity for GM to handle higher demand.
The Lordstown, Ohio, assembly plant that makes the Cruze already is running three shifts. Reuss said GM has "a lot of agility and flexibility in the United States" to boost Cruze production if needed.
Asked if GM would consider pulling forward the launch of the Chevrolet Sonic subcompact, now scheduled for the fourth quarter, Reuss said GM won't jeopardize quality for a few extra months of sales.
But, he said: "There's always a chance, in extraordinary times."