GM January sales rose 22%General Motors (GM) sales rose 21.8% in January compared to a year ago on strong sales across its lines of passenger cars, "crossover" vehicles and trucks, the automaker said Tuesday.

"January was a good month and signaled a solid start to the new year for each of our divisions," Don Johnson, U.S. sales vice president, said in a statement. "Our results were driven by gains across the board in all segments, with our newest models leading the way."

For the month, GM dealers sold a total of 178,896 units, recording a 23% increase in sales among GM's four core brands: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC. GM said the gain was led by a surge in retail sales, which grew 36% compared to year ago.

"Consumers are driving much of the game" in sales, Johnson said during a conference call with investors and the media after release of the sales figures. Aiding retail sales are historically low interest rates and an increase in the availability in credit, he said.

Retail sales of GM's cars, trucks and crossovers rose at least 34% during the month, GM said. Fleet sales (those to rental-car agencies and corporate customers) fell 7%.

Cadillac Led the Way


Each of the automaker's divisions recorded higher sales for the month, with Cadillac posting the highest percentage increase: 49%, while those at GMC rose 30% compared to a year ago. Buick sales rose 32%, marking the 16th consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains. GM noted that 42% of Buick buyers in January were non-GM owners, a boost for the brand, which has had to battle a staid image.

GM's volume seller, Chevrolet, saw sales rise 19%, thanks in part to strong demand for the recently introduced Cruze (pictured). Sales of the new compact sedan rose 129% to 13,631 units compared to those of its predecessor, the Chevy Cobalt. Sales of the midsized Chevrolet Malibu, however, fell 14.2% to 14,102 units.

Johnson said the automaker so far has sold everyone of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid vehicles that began selling late last year. In January, the company delivered 321 Volts, in line with sales projections. The Volt starts at about $40,000 before federal rebates.

Strong Growth, Despite Challenges

During Tuesday's conference call, Johnson said GM is "encouraged by signs of progress in the economy," despite ongoing challenges, such as high unemployment and a distressed housing market. Further, Johnson said, the company expects that oil prices will remain volatile for much of 2011, bouncing between $70 to $100 a barrel.

Despite those challenges, GM expects the industry set an annual sales pace of 12.6 million to 12.7 million in January, higher than any month in 2010, excepting December.

GM was the first of the major car companies to report U.S. sales Tuesday. Ford Motor (F), Toyota Motor (TM) and Chrysler Group will report their sales data later in the day.

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