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GM says sales of fuel-efficient cars jumped in March

April 02, 2012|By Jerry Hirsch
  • General Motors said sales of fuel-efficient autos such as its Chevrolet Cruze zoomed in March.
General Motors said sales of fuel-efficient autos such as its Chevrolet… (Associated Press )

Look to General Motors' March sales numbers to see how Americans are adjusting to higher gas prices.

The once truck-centric Detroit automaker says that combined sales of its 12 vehicles that achieve an Environmental Protection Agency estimated 30 mpg or better on the highway topped 100,000 last month, the highest total in company history.

That would represent about 40% of GM’s sales for the month, according to auto price information company TrueCar.com. GM will release more data Tuesday.

“GM’s strategic investments in four-cylinder and turbocharged engines, advanced transmissions and vehicle electrification have been very well timed,” said Mark Reuss, president of GM North America. “Three years ago, about 16% of the vehicles GM sold achieved at least 30 mpg on the highway. Today, that number is about 40%.”

One example of GM’s transformation is that back in 2002, trucks accounted for 54% of sales, cars 43% and crossovers just 3%.  Now, trucks represent just 34% of GM’s sales while cars account for 41% and crossovers 24%.

The share of more fuel-efficient vehicles will likely grow as GM launches sales of its 2013 Cadillac ATS, the Chevrolet Spark and the four-cylinder 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, all of which are expected to achieve EPA estimates of 30 mpg highway or better when the ratings are released later this year.

One wrinkle in GM’s drive to sell more fuel-efficient vehicles is an investigation by federal safety regulators into fires breaking out in the 2011 model year Cruze.

 Federal safety regulators have launched an investigation into the cause of fires in the Chevrolet Cruze, General Motors' bestselling passenger car.

According to complaints made with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there have been at least two incidents in which the small sedan has caught fire while being driven. GM said it is researching warranty claims involving fires for at least 19 Cruzes.

With sales of almost 232,000 last year, the Cruze became one of the nation’s most popular small cars, outselling rivals such as the Honda Civic and Ford Focus and only narrowly trailing the Toyota Corolla.

But analysts said the probe could dampen Cruze sales. The small car segment of the auto industry is among the most competitive and consumers have an ample selection of good vehicles from many different makes to select from, said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with Edmunds.com.

March is expected to be the highest month for U.S. auto sales since 2007.

“We are looking at a record-breaking month for many manufacturers in March with Hyundai, Nissan and Volkswagen expected to have their highest unit sales ever in the U.S., ” said Jesse Toprak, an analyst at TrueCar.com.

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