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GM executive sees 2012 U.S. auto sales flat to slightly up

(Reuters) - The U.S. auto industry will grow slowly, with next year's sales possibly rising slightly from 2011, a top General Motors Co executive said on Tuesday.

"We continue to believe that the industry will grow; it will grow slowly, along with the economy and it will be flat to slightly up in 2012," U.S. sales chief Don Johnson said at a Barclays conference in New York. The speech was webcast online.

"We actually like this slow growth," he added. "For us, it is a better environment within which to plan and we prefer to have less uncertainty, less volatility."

GM's shares fell nearly 10 percent on November 1 after the U.S. automaker's October sales growth came in below expectations. Investors sold many auto stocks on concerns the eurozone crisis could undercut a slow-but-steady growth in U.S. vehicle demand.

The U.S. sales pace on an annual basis in October finished at 13.3 million vehicles, the highest level since February. Johnson said on Tuesday GM expects sales in November to finish at a pace of around 14 million. GM's outlook includes medium- and heavy-duty trucks, which typically account for about 200,000 to 300,000 sales.

Johnson said also GM's share loss in October in the U.S. market was not an indicator for the entire year. He said new products were the main reason for overall gains this year, rather than the impact of the Japan earthquake in March and the more recent floods in Thailand that have hurt Japanese rivals.

Johnson said there will likely be a "short-term downward pressure" on GM and other non-Japanese companies as loyal customers of the Japanese automakers who have been on the sidelines return. However, he expects GM's share of the U.S. retail sales market to remain in the 17 percent to 17.5 percent range.

"When you look at what's happened in the last year and you look at the share gains we've made, some of that is attributable to lack of inventory of our competitors, but the majority of that is attributable to our new products, our brand focus."

(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)

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