DETROIT -- General Motors posted a 2 percent sales increase in September as rising car sales offset sliding demand for pickups and SUVs.
Overall, GM sold 210,245 light vehicles last month. The Buick brand posted the strongest gain, 8 percent vs. a year earlier, followed by 2 percent for Chevrolet, flat results for GMC and a 1 percent decline for Cadillac.
GM said its overall truck sales fell 20 percent, hurt by a big reduction in sales to fleet customers, which declined 46 percent.
The company attributed the drop in fleet sales to a decline in truck deliveries to rental companies. Many rental customers ordered trucks in August, ahead of the changeover to the 2013 model year, GM said.
Sales of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-sized pickups, for example, fell 12 percent, while fleet sales dropped 56 percent. Retail sales of the Silverado and Sierra fell about 1 percent, GM said.
GM also had a steep decline in deliveries of its large SUVs. Sales of the Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe, the GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade all declined at least 38 percent.
For the year, GM's U.S. sales are up 3 percent through September. Along the way, GM's share of U.S. light vehicle sales has dropped 1.9 points from a year earlier, to 18.1 percent.
The bright spot was strong demand for GM's small cars, such as the Chevrolet Spark minicar and Sonic subcompact and the Buick Verano compact. Sales of the Chevy Cruze compact leapt 43 percent, to 25,787 units, within 188 units of the record monthly Cruze sales GM posted in August.
"It's just a continued good value story with the Cruze," Chevy sales chief Don Johnson said during a conference call with analysts and reporters. "The dealers have tremendous confidence in the Cruze being one of their core vehicles on the showroom floor."
During September, GM offered bonuses to dealers who exceeded a GM-set target for sales of 2012 and 2013 Cruze models.
Dealers who beat their target by 20 percent to 50 percent could earn $1,000 per car on a portion of their Cruze sales.
GM ran a similar so-called stair-step incentive program for sales of the 2012 and 2013 Chevy Malibu and Silverado and GMC Sierra, according to memos it sent to dealers.
Even including the dealer cash, though, GM had "the lowest truck incentives in the industry" in September, said Kurt McNeil, GM's vice president of sales operations. Across GM's lineup, incentive spending fell about $150 per vehicle from a year earlier, McNeil said.
Research firm TrueCar.com said GM's incentives averaged $3,008 per vehicle in September, down 7 percent from a year earlier.
McNeil said the September sales results reflect GM's "disciplined approach to production, pricing, fleet sales and incentives."