GM trails Toyota in first-half 2008 global sales

DETROIT Wed Jul 23, 2008 11:05pm BST

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DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Corp (GM.N) trailed Japanese rival Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) in global vehicle sales decisively through the second quarter and first half of the year, hurt by a large decline in North America.

The Detroit-based automaker said on Wednesday that vehicle sales fell 3 percent to 4.54 million vehicles in the first half as higher sales in Europe, Asia and Latin America failed to offset a 15 percent decline in North America.

Toyota sales, meanwhile, rose 2.2 percent to 4.8 million in the first six months of 2008. The tally includes sales at mini-vehicle unit Daihatsu Motor Co (7262.T) and truck unit Hino Motors Ltd (7205.T).

Higher U.S. gas prices have "put an enormous amount of pressure" on GM's truck sales, said Erich Merkle, an automotive consultant with accounting and consulting firm Crowe Chizek and Co LLC. "That is equating to lower sales for GM and causing them to now fall behind Toyota."

Both the automakers have cut U.S. truck production in response to weak U.S. auto sales and a consumer shift from low-mileage vehicles because of high fuel prices.

The slump in U.S. demand for large SUVs and pickup trucks has hit GM particularly hard as the high-margin vehicles historically account for a majority of the automaker's sales.

Toyota, on the other hand, has been able to weather the downturn better because of its strong car line-up, but plans to cut its global sales target for 2008.

GM and Toyota were roughly even in 2007 for the top spot among the world's automakers, with GM slightly ahead if sales from a China business were included.

STRONG GROWTH OUTSIDE NORTH AMERICA

GM's global sales fell 5 percent in the second quarter to 2.28 million vehicles, including a 20 percent decline in North America, its largest market.

GM's sales in North America fell to 963,929 vehicles in the second quarter from 1.2 million, hurt by the slow U.S. economy and labor disruptions in the U.S. market, the company said.

Quarterly sales rose 10 percent outside North America.

Sales in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East rose 17.7 percent, while sales in its Asia-Pacific region grew 14.6 percent, GM said. Sales rose 2.5 percent in Europe.

Overall, GM expects global demand for autos to increase 2.5 percent to 72 million vehicles in 2008 from 70.6 million last year, driven by sales increases in emerging markets.

Mike DiGiovanni, GM's chief sales analyst, said most of the industry's sales increase is expected to be in the so-called BRIC countries -- Brazil, Russia, India and China.

"Certainly the biggest risk is the U.S. economic downturn and potential spill-over effects on the global economy," he said.

(Additional reporting by David Bailey; editing by Brian Moss and Derek Caney)

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