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From the Detroit Free Press:

GM's global vehicle sales rise 4.4%

Results are strong outside North America

April 20, 2006



General Motors Corp. said late Wednesday that its worldwide vehicle sales rose 4.4% during the first three months of 2006, suggesting it won't give up its title as the world's largest automaker to Toyota Motor Corp. without a fight.

GM, expected today to post another dismal quarter of earnings, said its sales around the world grew to 2.2 million vehicles from January to March, fueled by strong results outside North America, where GM has been losing billions of dollars.

GM's sales outside North America rose 148,000, or 15.9%, during the first quarter, more than twice the industry average growth rate of 7.4%, GM said.

GM has been the global leader in automotive sales for 75 years. However, Toyota's strong sales growth, fueled by its massive investment in new vehicles, is widely expected to push the Japanese automaker ahead of GM in annual results within a few years at most.

GM's global sales were boosted by strong results for the Chevrolet, Hummer, Saab and Cadillac brands, GM CEO Rick Wagoner said in a news release.

"These brands account for one out of every two GM vehicles sold globally and complement our well-known regional brands like Opel, GMC and Holden," he said.

GM board member Jerome York said in January before he joined the board that the Saab and Hummer brands were not core to the company, and that GM should consider shedding both brands.

Hummer's global sales surged 202% in the first quarter on the addition of the new H3 SUV, the smallest and most-affordable vehicle in the brand lineup. Hummer sales in the United States rose 185% during the period.

Worldwide Saab sales climbed 23.2%, boosted by 27.7% growth in Europe and a 12% rise in the United States.

GM's mass-market Chevrolet brand enjoyed strong sales in all regions except the United States. Chevrolet sales in the Asia Pacific region rose 62% versus the industry's growth rate of 9%, GM said. Chevrolet sales in Latin America grew 27.4%, outpacing the industry's growth rate of 19%. In Europe, Chevrolet sales climbed 8.1% compared with regional growth of 4.5%.

Sales of Cadillac outside of the United States grew 19.4% in the first quarter, supported by a 246% gain in China and 32% growth in Canada. The rollout of the new Escalade SUV and the all-new BLS luxury sedan is expected to fuel stronger Cadillac sales in the second quarter, GM said.

Despite the sales gains, GM is widely expected to report a sharp loss again today. GM said last week that it would take a charge of up to $3 billion for payments to a new health care fund stemming from the recent agreement with the UAW to shift more medical costs to retirees.

A 5.5% drop in GM's U.S. sales during the first quarter and rising costs for employee health care -- as well as materials such as steel and oil products used in vehicles -- also are expected to contribute to the weaker first-quarter earnings
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