Editor's note: Due to a data transfer error at TrueCar, an earlier version of this story misstated the average transaction price of new General Motors vehicles in the first quarter.
DETROIT — General Motors' U.S. light-vehicle sales rose 3.7 percent in the first quarter on gains by all brands except Chevrolet. But the automaker ended the quarter with only half as much inventory as it had a year earlier.
GM delivered 639,406 vehicles from January through March, the automaker said Thursday. It ended the quarter with 334,628 on hand, compared with 668,443 a year earlier. Its supplies shrank by 76,247 during the first quarter, in part because of production shutdowns resulting from the industry's microchip shortage.
Retail deliveries increased 19 percent and fleet volume dropped 35 percent year over year, the company reported.
"Over the last year, our dealers, supply chain and manufacturing teams have gone above and beyond to satisfy customers as demand for GM products rose sharply," Steve Carlisle, president of GM North America, said in a statement. "The great teamwork continues. Sales are off to a strong start in 2021, we are operating our truck and full-size SUV plants at full capacity and we plan to recover lost car and crossover production in the second half of the year where possible."
Cadillac, Buick and GMC each posted double-digit increases in the quarter, while Chevy sales slipped 1.9 percent.
Cadillac boosted sales for all nameplates except the XT5 crossover. The redesigned 2021 Escalade carried the brand with a 75 percent increase.
Buick Encore GX sales soared to 18,435 vehicles, tripling sales of the smaller Encore and up from 2,601 vehicles a year earlier. The redesigned 2021 Envision climbed 51 percent.
GMC volume rose on double-digit increases by every vehicle except the Terrain, which declined 33 percent.
Chevy posted stronger SUV sales but a significant dip in pickup volume.
The Silverado, Chevy's top seller, dragged down the brand's volume with a 13 percent decline. Light-duty Silverado sales declined 20 percent, while heavy-dutys increased 11 percent.
Sales of Chevy's large SUVs — the Tahoe, Suburban and smaller Traverse — each rose at least 13 percent.
Brands: Buick, up 35%; Cadillac, up 23%; Chevrolet, down 1.9%; GMC, up 11%.
Notable nameplates: Buick Enclave, up 21%; Encore, down 56%; Encore GX, up 609%; Envision, up 51%; Cadillac Escalade, up 75%; XT6, up, 18%; CT5, up 46%; Chevrolet Blazer, down 13%; Bolt EV, up 54%; Colorado, up 12%; Corvette, up 73%; Equinox, down 14%; Silverado, down 13%; Suburban, up 17%; Tahoe, up 13%; Trax, down 40%; GMC Sierra, up 19%; Yukon, up 31%; Terrain, down 33%; Canyon, up 59%.
Incentives: $2,296 per vehicle, down 11% from a year earlier, TrueCar says.
Average transaction price (Q1): $42,103, up 5.2% from a year earlier, according to TrueCar.
Fleet mix: 17%, vs. 28% a year earlier. Total fleet volume decreased 35% as deliveries to rental companies — 6% of GM's fleet volume — fell 55% compared to a strong first quarter in 2020. Sales to commercial and government customers fell 15%. GM has idled production at plants that build vehicles popular with fleets, such the Chevy Equinox and Malibu, because of the chip shortage.
Inventory: 334,628 vehicles, down by half from the first quarter of 2020 and down 19% from the end of 2020.
Quote: "Consumer confidence and spending will continue to increase due to stimulus, rising vaccination rates and the progressive reopening of the economy," Elaine Buckberg, GM chief economist, said in the statement. "Auto demand should remain strong throughout the year."
Did you know? GM boosted sales to small businesses — which count as retail sales, not fleet — by 27% in the quarter. Full-size SUVs, medium-duty Silverado pickups and large vans drove the increase.