DETROIT -- General Motors Corp. has made a dramatic turnaround in its high-profile light truck sales battle against Ford Motor Co. and likely will outsell its chief rival in 2001, a GM executive says.

But Paul Ballew, GM’s general director of market and industry analysis, says that beating Ford isn’t important if European and Asian competitors continue to grab market share. “We could be beating Ford, and we both could be shedding volume. We could be beating Ford, and we both could not be improving our long-term position in the marketplace,” says Ballew. “What matters to (GM), when you look at our performance, our truck volume is up; the customers we’re reaching and the level of conquests we’re getting from trucks -- all those things matter to us. And then yes, at the end of the day when you add it all up we sold more than they did.”

That appears to be the case in 2001.

Year-to-date through November, GM leads Ford in fullsize pickup sales by 59,120 units. Eleven months into 2000, GM was trailing Ford by 45,696 units. GM hasn’t beaten Ford in that segment since 1995.

In the fullsize SUV sector, GM is ahead by 99,102 units through November. Year-ago, GM trailed Ford by 52,559 units, and it hasn’t surpassed Ford in SUV sales since 1996. “We’re actually going to beat everyone this year. We’re going to set an all-time industry mark for utility sales by any vehicle manufacturer,” Ballew notes.

Figures for total truck deliveries show GM grabbing a 143,992-unit lead January-November. GM trailed the leader by 100,458 units in like-2000. Its steep increase in light truck sales has allowed the auto maker to stabilize, possibly even gain, combined car and truck market share in 2001. It finished November at 28.4%, the same as year-ago.

What excites GM about its light-truck sales success is the new customers its products are drawing – key to reversing years of market-share erosion. In 1995, 14.78% of its truck buyers had incomes of $75,000-$99,999 -- a highly targeted consumer demographic in the auto industry. In 2001, that has increased to 17.94%. However, GM’s overall market share among incomes topping $75,000 dropped from 29% in 1995 to 22% in 2001. “It is absolutely vital, as we look at our position going forward, that we improve our position in those high-income households,” Ballew says. “A 22% share is not acceptable.”