GM says March U.S. truck sales on the rise


NEW YORK, March 23 (Reuters) - General Motors Corp.'s North America President Gary Cowger said on Wednesday the troubled automaker's March U.S. sales looked encouraging, particularly for large pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.

"When I look at March figures, our full-sized pickups will probably be close to 100,000 units and we're having a great full-sized (SUV) month compared to January and February," Cowger told reporters on the sidelines of the New York auto show.

GM last week dramatically slashed earnings guidance for 2005 amid slumping North American sales. GM said it expects to post a first-quarter loss of about $1.50 per share compared with a prior forecast of breaking even or even posting a profit.

Cowger acknowledged the difficult situation facing the world's largest automaker and said the company, which saw its stock drop last week to its lowest level in more than a dozen years, was increasing its focus on marketing and promotion of new vehicles.

"We are increasing our marketing support to stimulate stronger consumer awareness of all of our launch brands," he said in a speech at the auto show. "We are going to be aggressive in the marketplace, ... make sure that consumers hear about specifics (of new vehicles)."

GM has been steadily losing market share to foreign rivals, while rising gasoline prices have dented demand for its high-margin SUVs and pickup trucks.

GM's U.S. sales of SUVs and pickup trucks declined 9 percent last month. Overall, for the first two months of this year, GM's U.S. market share fell to 25 percent, down from 27.3 percent for all of 2004 and 32 percent 10 years ago.

Analysts said last week they expect GM's sales to fall by as much as 10 percent in March from year-ago levels, despite its "March Madness" sales incentives of additional cash rebates of as much as $1,500.

Asian rival carmakers Toyota Motor Corp. , Nissan Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd. could see double-digit sales gains this month, Jesse Toprak, a senior analyst with, told Reuters last week.

Cowger said the effect gas prices over $2 a gallon in recent weeks has had on gas-guzzling vehicles is "something you need to keep an eye on," but noted the full-size SUV segment was still strong. (Additional reporting by Detroit newsroom, 313-967-1900)



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