Despite last spring’s spike in car sales, light trucks are in no immediate danger of losing their position as the U.S. market’s best-selling segment, General Motors Corp. says.

After seeing the industry’s sales mix divided evenly earlier this year, the split is back in more familiar territory – about 53:47 in favor of light trucks, says Paul Ballew, GM executive director-global market and industry analysis.

“We had some periods in the spring where we actually dipped a little below 50/50 in the industry – tough for us and other manufacturers to deal with,” Ballew says as GM reports a 16.3% boost in truck sales for November vs. a 7.6% decline in car sales on a daily-rate basis.

“We believe what that tells you is not a structural shift from truck to car. What it tells you is that trucks, rightly so, are sensitive to movements in gas prices.”

Gas prices have declined since the national average exceeded $3 in July. That figure now is just below $2.26 per gallon, according to the American Automobile Assn.

As a corollary to the current consumer preference trend, demand is growing for roomier pickups.

“What we have seen in the industry over the last five years has been a fairly dramatic shift to crew cab,” Ballew says. So, for auto makers, “interior space has become a big determinant in terms of success in the marketplace.”

As GM rolls out its redesigned line of pickups based on its new GMT900, particular attention is being paid to ensuring dealers have adequate supplies of crew cabs.

Regular-sized cabs account for about 10% of pickup sales, Ballew says.

Adds Mark LaNeve, GM North America vice president-sales, service and marketing: “Our manufacturing team worked extremely hard on a high-quality launch and has already produced more than 50,000 new 2007 Chevy Silverados and GMC Sierras. This accelerated launch means we are in the marketplace 13 weeks ahead of schedule – and most importantly – ahead of the competition with the best quality, fuel economy and value in the important fullsize pickup segment.”

Overall, GM’s November sales were up 6.1% vs. like-2005 on a daily rate basis on a volume of 293,755 light vehicles. The total includes 109,874 cars and 183,881 light trucks. Among individual models, notable gainers vs. year-ago for GM included the Buick Lucerne (195.1%) passenger car and Cadillac Escalade (132.9%), Chevrolet Suburban (74.8%) and GMC Yukon (99.0%) fullsize SUVs.

Despite a “challenging market,” LaNeve says in a statement, the auto maker continues “to experience strong customer demand for our lineup of fuel-efficient vehicles and new-launch products.”

emayne@wardsauto.com