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GM analyst sees first sales gain in 21 months

/ Source: The Associated Press

General Motors Co. is likely to post its first year-over-year monthly sales gain in 21 months when automakers report sales figures on Tuesday, a top GM sales analyst said Wednesday.

Mike DiGiovanni, GM's executive director of global market and industry analysis, also told reporters that the payback from the government's Cash for Clunkers rebates that depressed U.S. auto sales in September should be over.

"We're through that for the most part," he said during a sales preview discussion. "We think it paid back in August and September."

GM last reported a sales increase over the same month of the previous year in January of 2008, DiGiovanni said. GM's vehicles sold poorly last October, though, down 45 percent from October of 2007 when U.S. financial markets were collapsing.

Also in October, GM should see its third straight U.S. market share gain, falling into the 20 percent to 21 percent range despite shedding four brands and trying to focus on Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac, DiGiovanni said.

He predicted U.S. light vehicle sales for October will rise to an annual rate of 10.5 million, up dramatically from September's 9.2 million. He said the U.S. auto market is not out of trouble yet but is showing signs of recovery.

Susan Docherty, GM's new sales chief, told reporters that only four customers have returned vehicles to get their money back under GM's new 60-day money-back guarantee. Another 49 returns are pending, she said.

Of the 142,000 vehicles GM has sold since the program started in September, only 449 people have taken the money-back guarantee option instead of a $500 rebate, less than 1 percent of the sales, she said.

Docherty, who has been in her new job nine days, said two worries keep her up at night: GM's rankings in the widely read Consumer Reports reliability survey and boosting the resale value of GM vehicles.

Consumer Reports, she said, gave its "recommended buy" check mark to 12 GM vehicles this year, up from 10 last year, but still not a good enough performance. The magazine survey covered 48 GM models this year.

GM does well in the magazine's safety and performance tests, but not well enough in the reliability survey, the third component of its vehicle ratings, Docherty said.

"We do have some work to do on reliability and dependability," she said. GM should fare better next year when data from six new vehicles that recently went on sale will be included in the survey, she said.

GM needs to boost resale values to make its cars and trucks more appealing to customers, she said. That means using lease deals, low-interest financing, rebates and other incentives more sparingly, as well as keeping factory output in line with demand for vehicles and limiting sales to rental car companies.

She conceded that GM is now among the leaders in incentives because it is using them to sell down remaining 2009 models. About 65 percent of GM's inventory at dealers is from the 2009 model year, while competitors have only 20 to 40 percent.

New 2010 models began arriving in dealer showrooms in August and September.