General Motors sold 7.15 million cars, trucks and crossovers around the world during the first nine months of 2015. That was down 1.3% compared to the same period the year before.
The Detroit giant pointed to a number of problems it faced during the first three quarters, including a weakening market in China, as well as economic problems in South America. If anything, GM officials see the glass as more than half full, noting sales actually increased in four of the world’s largest markets, including the United States.
“Our unwavering focus on the customer is paying off in our largest and most important markets as we execute one successful launch after another in the right segments,” said GM President Dan Ammann. “At the same time, we have reacted quickly to challenging macroeconomic environments in other markets and have shown the discipline to exit situations where we see no long-term path to acceptable returns.”
The Chevrolet division largely drove away from the European market last year – with only a few products, such as the Corvette sports car, remaining on sale there. Chevy suffered the largest decline of any major GM brand during the first nine months of this year, a slide of 7.1%. The brand has also cut back on fleet sales in the critical U.S. market, putting more emphasis on profitable retail demand.
The GMC brand, by contrast, reported a 10.9% jump, with Cadillac up 3.2% and Buick gaining 2.6% worldwide. Buick is GM’s lead brand in the huge Chinese market. The German-based Opel/Vauxhall division, meanwhile, gained 3.8%, a notable turnaround after years of decline.
GM’s sales decline escalated during the third-quarter, with global volume off 3.1%. After years of growth, it suffered 4.2% dip in China, reflecting the overall slump in that market. GM sales were down 30.8% in South America and 10.3% in its International unit. By comparison, demand rose 1.1% in Europe, and 5.2% in North America.
(GM sales slide in China. Click Here for more.)
GM was the world’s best-selling automaker for three-quarters of a century, but lost the sales crown to Toyota in 2008 – taking it back briefly as a result of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. Toyota appeared destined to lose its leadership position again this year, Volkswagen AG nudging past the Japanese giant during the first half of 2015.
But the race now may be back up in the air in the wake of VW’s diesel emissions test scandal. Industry analysts warn that the German maker’s reputation is taking a serious hit that could translate into a sharp sales decline. Exacerbating matters, Volkswagen has had to put sales of many diesel models on hold in some markets, including the U.S., until it can fix the emissions problem.
(Germany orders 1st recall of VW diesels. Click Here for the latest.)
Even so, GM stood well behind its two main rivals during the first half, with sales of just 4.86 million compared to 5.02 million for Toyota and 5.04 million for Volkswagen.
Those two makers will report third-quarter numbers later this month, and barring unexpectedly sharp declines should remain well ahead of GM.
“We don’t have to be the largest, we have to be the highest quality,” CEO Mary Barra said during a Fortune magazine conference this week.
(GM, Toyota Dominate Motorist Choice Awards. Click Here for the latest.)