DETROIT -- Big declines for the Buick brand and the Chevrolet Malibu pushed General Motors’ U.S. sales down 3.8 percent in January.
It marked the first time that GM sold fewer than 200,000 vehicles in a month since January 2014. But company officials said the month’s results are not a sign of weakening demand.
“In early January, we focused on profitability while key competitors sold down their large stocks of deeply discounted, old-model-year pickups,” Kurt McNeil, GM’s U.S. vice president of sales operations, said in a statement Wednesday. “We gained considerable sales momentum as we rebuilt our midsize pickup, SUV and compact crossover inventories from very low levels following record-setting December sales.”
GM’s overall decline of 7,836 vehicles included a drop of 28 percent, or 5,152 units, for Buick, which had its strongest January in more than a decade in 2016. It was the biggest year-over-year decline for Buick since September 2009.
Malibu sales fell 43 percent, or 6,369 units, while the rest of the Chevy brand posted a 3 percent increase. Including the Malibu, Chevy was down 1.9 percent. A GM spokesman said Malibu sales were affected by a 39 percent surge for the smaller Chevy Cruze, which had struggled in recent months.
GM said its retail sales, the automaker’s primary focus as it strives for increased profitability, declined 4.9 percent. Fleet deliveries rose 1 percent, including a 12 percent jump in government sales and a 1 percent decline in shipments to rental-car companies. Cadillac was the only one of GM’s four U.S. brands to post a retail sales increase in January.
GM told dealers at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention last weekend that it expects Chevrolet to gain retail market share for a third consecutive year. A big factor in that projection is the planned introduction of three redesigned crossovers -- the Chevy Equinox, Chevy Traverse and GMC Terrain -- in the coming months.
“Our go-to-market strategy in 2017 is the same as 2016,” McNeil said. “We are focused on strengthening our brands, growing retail sales and share, reducing daily rental deliveries and maintaining our operating discipline.”
GM said its average transaction price rose $1,200 to a January record of $34,500.
Inventories, after declining in December, climbed to 878,590 units -- a 108-day supply -- as of Feb. 1, the highest in nearly 9 years. They are likely to ebb in the coming months as the spring selling season approaches; GM eliminated the third shift at two assembly plants in January and plans to cut a shift at another plant in March.
Chevy sold 1,162 of its new Bolt EVs in January, the car’s first full month on the market. The Bolt was initially available only in California and Oregon, but sales are scheduled to begin in Massachusetts, Maryland and Virginia this month.
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