DETROIT -- Big gains for the Chevrolet Cruze and Buick Encore helped General Motors post a small U.S. sales increase for March, despite double-digit declines for 18 of the automaker’s 43 nameplates.
GM’s pickup sales fell 13 percent last month, and the Chevy Silverado fell behind Fiat Chrysler’s Ram pickup for only the third time since 1999. The Chevy Malibu, Buick Enclave and six Cadillac nameplates also were among the GM vehicles with more than a 10 percent drop.
In spite of that, GM said it gained market share among retail customers in March and in the first quarter. Cadillac was the only one of its four brands to post lower retail sales in the quarter.
“The economy is strong and we see more growth ahead for our brands,” Kurt McNeil, GM’s U.S. vice president of sales operations, said in a statement. “More people are working, consumer confidence is at a 16-year high, fuel prices are low and Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac have a wave of new crossovers to compete in the industry’s biggest and hottest segments.”
Overall, GM sales rose 1.6 percent in March, with retail sales rising 5 percent and fleet deliveries sliding 3 percent. Chevy and Cadillac sales were each down about 2 percent, while GMC was up 12 percent and Buick rose 15 percent.
The results allowed GM to shrink its inventory by 3 percent after it had climbed to a nine-year high in February. GM said it had a 91-day supply of unsold vehicles as of April 1, down from 98 days a month earlier.
A GM spokesman said the company reduced incentives on its full-size pickups by “quite a bit” from February, when it ran a “truck month” promotion, and that average transaction prices for the pickups rose $350 from a year ago. He said much larger discounts on the Ram allowed it to displace the Silverado as the industry’s second best-selling vehicle. After a 12 percent decline in March, Silverado sales were down just 0.4 percent in the first quarter versus the same period of 2016.
GM said its total incentive spending will decline as it introduces several important vehicles this year.
Chevy, which posted a 0.2 percent decline for the first quarter, stands to benefit from a redesigned Equinox and Traverse. The 2018 Equinox started arriving at some dealerships in March.
GMC, which had its highest first-quarter volume since 2000, will get a redesigned Terrain crossover this summer. GMC’s March rise was aided by an 84 percent surge for the Acadia.
Help is further away for Cadillac, whose sales fell 4.6 percent in the first quarter. In March, the XT5 crossover outsold the combined total of the brand’s four sedans, which posted a 17 percent decline. Cadillac is developing three new crossovers for its lineup, but the first -- which will be smaller than the XT5 -- does not arrive until the second half of 2018.
March was the first positive month of 2017 for Buick. Sales of its three crossovers rose a combined 36 percent, with the smallest one, the Encore, accounting for 40 percent of the brand’s sales all by itself.
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