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GM February Sales In High Gear

General Motors Corp. reported Wednesday that its February U.S. sales surged 17 percent, due in part to aggressive spending on rebates and other discounts.

GM saw improvement across the board compared with February 1998. Its car sales were up 19 percent, while sales of light trucks increased 15 percent.

The No. 1 automaker has been trying to reverse a slide in its U.S. market share, which fell to 29 percent last year. GM has set a goal of 32 percent of the market this year.

To reach that level, GM last month offered the broadest array of sales incentives among the major automakers. They included $1,000 rebates offered in the final weekend to GM's U.S. employees, relatives and retirees, about 2 million people, on top of their regular employee discounts.

"If there's one incentive program this month that made a difference, it was that one," said analyst Nick Colas of Credit Suisse First Boston. "GM had something to prove here in its ability to regain share in cars and trucks."

Other automakers benefited largely from Americans' demand for sport utility vehicles, pickups and minivans, which continues to grow at a pace that surprises the industry.

Light trucks helped Ford, Toyota and Honda set February sales records. All of the big automakers that reported results Tuesday posted gains, some in double digits, over the same month of 1998.

"We've had a great level of car and truck sales for six months now, since the end of the GM strikes," said analyst David Healy of Burnham Securities Inc. "You've got to relate it to very flat or even lower vehicle prices, a very high level of consumer confidence and lower interest rates.

"People are willing to buy."

A number of other automakers have also reported higher sales:

  • Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG each had an 8 percent improvement.
  • Honda Motor Co. said its sales rose 14 percent on surging demand for its Odyssey minivan and SUVs.
  • Toyota Motor Corp. was up 19 percent.
  • Nissan Motor Corp. had a 4 percent gain.

Written By Brian S. Akre, AP Auto Writer