GM's 18% gain in profits from $1.92 billion the prior year catches many by surprise. GM's perennially ailing North American Operations (NAO) gets credit for much of the turnaround, posting a hefty 37% gain in profits to $880 million (includingAutomotive Systems parts operations), up from $641 million. "That's very gratifying, especially in light of the fact volume was down," says Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer J. Michael Losh. He adds that he remains cautiously optimistic about the second half. GM is sticking to its sales forecast of 15.3 million vehicles for 1995 -- implying a stronger final six months, although other experts are far more bearish (see Forecast feature, p.31). GM's forecast "is probably something that is more realistic than it would have been 90 days ago, because we have seen the market strengthen in the past 60 days," Mr. Losh tells Ward's. Mr. Losh also sees GM reversing its market-share slide, predicting it'll rise from the current 32.3% hunk. The gains will result from greater availability of Cavalier/Sunfire J-cars and an increase in deliveries to fleets -- GM fleet sales normally spike in the third quarter. Fleets accounted for 23.8% of GM car sales and 13.2% of truck sales during the three-month period.