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Tony DiSalle - Vice President for Buick and GMC Marketing
Kurt McNeil - U.S. Sales and Service Vice President, Cadillac
Sue Yingzi Su - Senior Economist Analysts Brian Johnson - Barclays Capital Adam Jonas - Morgan Stanley Chris Ceraso - Credit Suisse John Murphy - Bank of America Merrill Lynch Dan Galves - Deutsche Bank Colin Langan - UBS Patrick Archambault - Goldman Sachs Media Tom Krisher - Associated Press Ben Klayman - Reuters Chrissie Thompson - Detroit Free Press Tim Higgins - Bloomberg News Mike Colias - Automotive News Melissa Burden - The Detroit News Robert Schoenberger - The Plain Dealer Presentation Operator Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by and welcome to the February 2012 General Motors U.S. Sales Conference Call. (Operator instructions) As a reminder, this conference is being recorded Thursday, March 1, 2012. I would now like to turn the conference over to Jim Cain, GM Communication. Please go ahead, sir. Jim Cain Morning. Thank you for joining us, everybody. This is the General Motors February sales call. We have leading our discussion today Do Johnson, our U.S. Vice President of Sales Operations. Before we begin I would just ask everybody to recognize that this conversation is covered by our standard disclosure and forward-looking statements, which you can read in our press release. We’ll have discussion followed by Q&A and I’d like to turn the floor over to Don Johnson.
Don JohnsonThanks, Jim. Good morning, everybody. Thanks for joining us. As you’ve no doubt read by now, we reported total sales for the month of 209,306 units and that’s just over 1% higher than February of 2011, which beat most expectations based on what we’ve been seeing in the last month. As we told you last month on the call, our sales were exceptionally strong in January and February of 2011. So, this month’s strong performance is once again I think a real testament to our steady progress and, importantly, to our focus plan. Now you dig into the numbers you’re going to immediately see that sales of our newest fuel efficient cars and crossovers were very strong in February. An example, we had our best month so far for the Chevrolet Sonic. Sales for the Sonic were an even 7,900 vehicles. And the Chevrolet Cruze just delivered its sixth month of sales exceeding 20,000 units and that also makes February the car’s sixth consecutive month of higher year-over-year sales. In addition, the just-launched Buick Verano is really getting traction and this month the Verano had sales of almost 17,000 units. And then our compact crossovers, which include the Chevrolet Equinox and the GMC Terrain, we’re up a combined 25%. Now as we look at the numbers this month, I’m particularly encouraged that its great products and improving economic fundamentals that are really driving our business. When we look at the incentive piece of our business, our spending in February was actually down, both on a year-over-year as well as a month-over-month basis. When you do express that as a percentage of average transaction prices, GM’s year-over-year spending was down three and a half percentage points to 9.5%, according to J.D. Power PN estimates, and we were down about a half a point from January.
So let's talk a little bit about the industry outlook. For much of 2011, the auto industry was a bright spot for the broader economy, and we think that that continues to be the case. February light vehicle sales will be more than 1.1 million units, which compares with sales of about 914,000 units in January.
Now, right now, we're estimating that the light vehicle SAAR will also be up and it could grow to between 14.5 million to 14.9 million, and that compares to about 14.1 million in January. Now, we need to keep in mind that February is still a relatively low seasonal month, so a small change in volume can really drive the SAAR. But that said, this could be the highest monthly SAAR since 2008.
Now, there are a number of factors that are helping release this pent-up demand, and they include stronger employment, good credit availability, and both of those are leading to improving consumer sentiment. And as you've all seen, the unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in three years, and consumer sentiment in February was at the highest level in the last 12 months, according to the University of Michigan.
But perhaps the most encouraging sign is that home builders are becoming more optimistic, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Home Builders. And we're optimistic, too. Housing starts and new home sales were recently revised upward, and that suggests that the end of housing price declines may finally occur this year.
And we can start to see clear evidence of this stronger sentiment and optimism in our commercial fleet sales. In February, our overall fleet sales were up 20%, but this was primarily driven by a 35% increase in sales to commercial customers. In particular, commercial customers are driving stronger sales of the Chevrolet Silverado and the GMC Sierra heavy duty trucks, which were up 28% and 20%, respectively. Government sales, meanwhile, were up 16%, and rental sales were up 15%. And when you look at our overall fleet mix for the month, it was around 25%, and that's right in line with what our full-year plan is.
Now, when we look at our brands and our other vehicle lines, again, you'll see the success of our fuel-efficient vehicles really does tell the story. February was paced by Chevrolet, especially Chevrolet passenger cars, which were up 13% year-over-year. Our dealers delivered 20,427 Cruzes, that's up 10%, and at the same time, we delivered 7,900 Sonics, and that's up almost 200% over the model that the Sonic replaced. And we also delivered 1,023 Volts in February.
Now, when you add the almost 1,700 Buick Veranos to the mix, our total GM small and compact car sales increased 43% year-over-year. And we'll keep Verano's momentum going in March with the launch of our national media campaign which includes a full court press during the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
Now some of the other strong performances that I would draw your attention to are the Chevrolet Malibu which is up 5%, the Chevrolet Camaro which is up 11% and the Buick LaCrosse which continues it strong trend up 21%. And the popularity of the LaCrosse is due in no small measure to the success of our 36-mile-per-gallon eAssist powertrain. So far this year about one in four LaCrosses have been sold with eAssist.
Now in the truck market total GM truck sales were up 4% year-over-year and this figure includes all of our body-on-frame vehicles, with the Chevrolet Silverado, Avalanche, Suburban, Colorado and Express all posting higher sales.
As we look further into 2012, we expect to see the full-size pick-up market to follow its usual seasonal patterns with stronger sales in the second half of the year. In the first half of last year, for example, full-size pickups represented 10.5% of the industry. And that's exactly where the segment was in January and February of this year. As you may recall, we ended 2011 with pickups representing an 11.6% share of the industry and we expect again that seasonal difference to play out and end up in that range again this year.
Now, having said that, there has been a lot of attention paid to the recent increases in gasoline prices, and rightly so. No one likes to pay more for fuel and everyone likes to go further on a gallon of gas. The question that I know everybody's asking is how will higher fuel prices impact the industry and General Motors in 2012?
Well, basically, what we see in terms of pent-up demand and, importantly, the strength of the economy, we do not believe that short-term fluctuations in pump prices will curtail industry growth this year. That's because American consumers and the overall economy are in much better shape than they were a year ago.
Now, if fuel prices do impact the mix of vehicles that people choose to buy, we'll be ready because we are dramatically expanding our portfolio of very high fuel-economy vehicles and they're all very popular with consumers. You know, consider this fact; just three short year's ago about 16% of the vehicles that we sold achieved at least 30 miles per gallon on the highway. Contrast that today where that number is closer to 40% and we have more new fuel-economy leaders on the way, including the Chevrolet Spark and the Buick Encore. We believe that this puts us in a very strong competitive position regardless of what the market environment is.
So, that's it for my summary. Let's turn now to the Q&A portion of the call. Joining us today are Chevrolet Vice President, Alan Batey, Tony DiSalle, Vice President for Buick/GMC Marketing, Cadillac Vice President, Kurt McNeil., as well as our Senior Economist, Sue Yingzi Su. Read the rest of this transcript for free on seekingalpha.com