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General Motors Corporation (NYSE:GM)

Q3 2008 Global Sales Conference Call

October 29, 2008 9:00 am ET

Executives

Mike DiGiovanni - Executive Director of Global Market and Industry Analysis

Jonathan Browning - VP Global Sales, Service and Marketing

Analysts

Brendan Miles - Octagon Credit Investors

Dan Gal - Deutsche Bank

Raul Jeddah - JPMorgan

Madiaz Rusch - Financial Times Journal

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by and welcome to the third quarter 2008 global sales call. During the presentation, all participants will be in a listen-only mode. Afterwards, we will conduct a question-and-answer session. (Operator Instructions). As a reminder, this conference is being recorded, Wednesday, October 29, 2008.

Your speakers for today are Mike DiGiovanni and Jonathan Browning. Now, I would like to turn the conference over to Mr. Mike Giovanni. Please go ahead, sir.

Mike DiGiovanni

Thank you, operator and good morning, good afternoon, good evening from wherever you are joining us for this call. I'm Mike DiGiovanni, GM Executive Director of Global Market and Industry Analysis and also I have with me Jonathan Browning, Vice President Global Sales, Service and Marketing. Jon?

Jonathan Browning

Thanks Mickey. It’s good to be with you again today.

Mike DiGiovanni

Today we're going to review GM's third quarter 2008 global sales performance. The press release and data sheet we issued a few minutes ago has all the brand and regional specific data for your reference.

As is customary on this call, we will have a brief overview of the global market and macroeconomic factors and then we’ll look at the sales performances for the brands in our regions. After the remarks, we will open the call to questions first from the analysts and then the media who are joining us today. The operator will give you instructions on how to facilitate the questions.

So without further introduction, let's look at the global market and economy. First of all, I just want to comment, clearly, the reality of the situation is that the last quarter has seen unprecedented turmoil in the financial markets in many places around the world as credit has become harder to obtain and governments have taken extraordinary steps to intervene in their banks and large businesses.

The US's financial recovery plan and the $700 billion government bailout in the financial markets in this country obviously shows the level of concern over recent market actions. And as you know, the Fed has taken steps to provide one of our banks to loan and has dropped interest rates in response.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have also been essentially taken over by the government and stabilization actions are now underway in the mortgage markets. Members of the G8 have met recently and governments around the world are responding to their own financial market actions with fiscal plans and funding to shore up the bank balance sheets and help make credit more easily obtainable through private business.

So uncertainty definitely was the watch word for the third quarter. We believe many of the actions taken by the governments over the past three months will help stabilize the financial markets and build a foundation for future growth.

I would like to just comment on this a little bit further, because obviously, third quarter saw tremendous snowballing effect from around the world from all of the financial turmoil and I think it is really important that we stay grounded in the facts and in the history of that presents itself to us.

This time is not unusual in the sense that it is a cyclical downturn, and we have seen many of them before our nation's history. It is almost a natural act of the free enterprise economic system that you have to go through these and there are many positives that are going to come out of this at the end we feel. We are obviously already seeing some of those develop, lower oil prices, lower commodity prices, which frankly were unsustainable and I think all of us knew it. There had to be a peak to where that was going to hit and the bubble is going to burst.

I think it is a time when we've seen businesses really lean down, get their inventories lean, get their fixed costs down, as General Motors has, so we do start growing again, productivity will be greatly enhanced.

The dollar has strengthened through all of this. So, there has been a lot of positives and when we look around the world right now, clearly, we look at the United States, and a lot of actions have been taken very aggressively by our government.

What we're seeing, many of the indicators we're seeing, for example, consumer sentiment being at extremely low levels are really what we call lagging economic indicators and what we look at, some of the leading economic indicators, in terms of the TED spreads, the LIBOR rates getting better, we see oil prices falling, we see housing starts even in this difficult time and housing sales starting to show some positive signs for the first time in a while.

We see all of the actions that have been taken by the Fed to stabilize the financial markets in terms of things I mentioned. We are seeing the stock market reflect that, I think, more recently. That’s not a predictable indicator but it clearly is a positive sign that the markets are responding to these actions.

So, as we look around the world, we think that the United States is probably in its trough right now of the downturn, and this has been a very difficult quarter and a difficult month, but we do think the signs that I indicated, just the cut in oil prices alone is going to tremendously help the budgets of Americans. It is essentially like a tax rebate, if you will. Really, we think, the decline in oil prices about $66 a barrel today is like a tax cut and $300 to $400 billion to the economy which is like double what the original Federal stimulus package was and that is going to be very positive.

The Fed has room to maneuver as we know, inflation is no longer a major concern and we expect that Fed will cut rates today again. So I think all of the liquidity that government is putting into the system is starting to bring hopefully the US economy to a point from which, we know there is going to be a downturn, but hopefully it is at a point now where we will start to see modest growth as we proceed into 2009 and we expect good growth in 2010.

As far as Europe, it is in a severe downturn. No question about it. But the banks are moving in there as well. The ECB and the Bank of England are expected to cut rates further, another 50 basis points before year-end. Housing prices there, like here have further to fall, but the credit crunch is expected to ease now.

Like the US, there are aggressive and coordinated government actions going to address the problems, guaranteeing bank deposits, there is liquidity injection similar to what we're doing. I think we have to keep in mind the emerging markets while they have slowed, they are still strong. China's growth has fallen from 12% last year to 9% and we think it is going to grow about 8% next year. This is still very strong growth.

In the Latin America region growth is slowing down due to the falling commodity prices, but the fundamentals are really solid in most of these emerging markets. There are a lot of differences between now and the 1997-98 crisis in the emerging markets. Most emerging markets have positive current account deficits and their fiscal positions are in excellent shape.

So we can't overreact to some of the snowballing effect, I will call it, that happened in the markets here in the past two, three weeks. There are a lot of positive fundamentals going on around the world that are laying the bed for future growth. So, probably digressed a bit too much there but I wanted to put our thinking of General Motors and I wanted you to hear the thinking we have in General Motors on these subjects.

Talking about oil prices, when we look back on this, personally, I believe, when they write the Harvard case book studies, oil prices hitting $147 a barrel will be the trigger point that sent the world into the financial crisis. I think we were working our way through the housing crisis, but when it hit $147 a barrel and damaged American's pocketbooks to the point where, with the housing crisis, high prices they were paying at the pump, it really just stretched their budgets, pushed us over the edge. They stopped spending, unemployment rose, wages stagnated and as those things happened, they couldn't pay their mortgages and we had these foreclosures and that led to the whole domino effect in the financial markets.

So, I think when we look back on it the trigger point was oil. And so the recent drop in oil prices today, which as I indicated, Wednesday, it closed at $66 a barrel, and the commodity prices are having a positive impact in reducing upward pressure on inflation. We know this is a double-edged sword.

The commodity rich country such as Russia and Brazil are going to have fewer dollars to spend and that could reduce demand but on the other hand the reduction in oil prices has had a limited positive influence on the US product mix, as trucks have seen some recent stabilization and the ship from trucks to cars has slowed a bit, so there is a much more balanced portfolio impact. But make no mistake.

At General Motors, we're planning for higher oil prices long-term as demand picks up again in the industry, and believe that as the US and regional economies return to stronger growth, we're likely to see oil prices rise. We don't think they will rise to the peaks that we saw, back in July, but we're planning that; they will climb again as world demand picks up.

Over the third quarter, global automotive market was about 16.2 million vehicles, which is a drop of about a million vehicles compared to Q3 a year ago. Now, most of that decline, about 760,000 of that million came from the slumping US market.

What growth there was in the global market was in emerging markets where Q3 volume was 4.04 million vehicles, up 4.7% compared with a year ago. Moderating commodity prices and tighter credit in Russia and Brazil are tempering their record producing growth. But GM's Russia sales of 76,000 vehicles were up 0.5%, while Brazil sales of 158,000 increased 15.5%.

India boosted sales in Q3; reported GM sales of 17,000 vehicles. We're up 5%. The industry market in China saw a decline year-over-year of about 2% to 1.96 million vehicles.

So to recap, GM performance in those emerging markets, Russia was up 0.5%, Brazil up 15.5%, China up 12%, and India up 5%; a very good performance by general motors in all four of the major emerging markets.

Three of the largest and more mature markets, Japan, Western Europe and the US, experienced volume declines in Q3, 2008. The short-term outlook as I indicated remains very challenging. In the US the headwinds are well known, which I've discussed; the credit crunch, housing weakness, the subprime mortgage markets and very importantly, sagging consumer confidence.

In Japan, as we saw in Q2, it is the result of weak domestic demand and the long-term issue in aging population which have caused vehicle sales to drop to its lowest levels since 1982.

In Western Europe, domestic demand was weak as well. Combined, these three, mature markets will still account for more than half of all global vehicle sales, so our sales drop 1.2 million vehicles in the third quarter.

In summary, a tough market with turmoil in the financial sectors, dampening demand, especially in the US. However, we are still seeing some growth in the emerging markets, and as I indicated earlier, we think that the seeds of recovery are being planted right now, although we have some challenging times ahead of us, yet in the US.

For GM, we continue to benefit from the growth in emerging markets but there was not quite enough volume in the third quarter to offset the weakness in North America, more specifically, in the US. So in the third quarter GM sold 2.115 million vehicles, a decline of 11% compared with a year ago when we sold 2.388 million cars and trucks. GM's total third quarter sales reflect continuing economic pressures in the US market, which pushed North America sales down 228,000 vehicles compared with 2007.

Sales outside of the United States grew to 61% of all GM sales in Q3, compared with a year ago at 56%, and calendar year-to-date GM sales outside the US were 63% of all sales, compared with 58% last year. A reflection of the continued growth in the emerging markets, combined with softer demand in North America. A total of 1.286 million vehicles of all GM vehicles purchased were delivered in countries outside the United States. So for the first nine months of the year, GM sold 6.656 million vehicles.

Sales outside of North America grew by 164,000 vehicles in the first nine months of 2008 and on a year-over-year basis, GM total global sales were down 5.8% for the first nine months of 2008 again reflecting the economic pressures in the US industry.

Let's look now at some of how our brands performed. Chevrolet sales in Asia-Pacific, the industry’s second largest region grew 5% compared with the third quarter a year ago. Chevrolet sales in China were up 4.3% and India up 5% and which powered most of this growth.

In the Latin America, Africa, and Middle East region, a traditional Chevrolet strong hold. Sales grew 4% compared with the third quarter 2007. Chevrolet sales performance in Brazil, more than accounted for most of this growth.

Chevy sales in Europe also contributed to the brand’s solid third quarter results growing 3%. Chevy sales in North America were down 16.6%, however, but the demand for the new mid-size Malibu continues to be strong and we have increased Malibu and Cobalt production to meet demand for these fuel efficient vehicles.

Sales of Cadillac outside of the United States grew 11% in the third quarter, supported by the strong growth of the band in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East where Cadillac was up 10% and in the Asia-Pacific region up 39%.

So in summary, we're still setting records in two of our four regions and our volume brand Chevrolet is seeing strong growth in the Asia-Pacific, Europe, and Latin America, Africa, and Middle East regions, North America and more specifically the US market does continue to be challenging because of the headwinds we've discussed and so we're going to be closely monitoring the situation and managing accordingly.

So with that, I would like to turn the call back over to the operator who will give our listeners a chance to ask questions. Thank you.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions). Our first question comes from [Dan Gal] from Deutsche Bank. Please proceed with your question.

Dan Gal - Deutsche Bank

Good morning.

Mike DiGiovanni

Good morning.

Dan Gal - Deutsche Bank

I was wondering if you could give us industry year-over-year changes in each of the four regions?

Mike DiGiovanni

This is for the quarter?

Dan Gal - Deutsche Bank

Yes.

Mike DiGiovanni

GME was down, do you want General Motors volume, I assume?

Dan Gal - Deutsche Bank

Just industry volumes.

Mike DiGiovanni

Oh, industry volumes?

Dan Gal - Deutsche Bank

And just a percentage is fine.

Mike DiGiovanni

I don’t, I haven’t go that here, give me one second. Okay. For the quarter, for the industry, North America was down 15.5%; Asia-Pacific was down 2.7%; Europe was down 6.8%, and Latin America was up 5.8%. So for all regions of the world, industry sales for Q3 were down 6.7%.

Dan Gal - Deutsche Bank

Okay, thanks. And then did you say that your GM's Russia sales in the quarter were up 0.5%?

Mike DiGiovanni

I believe I did. Let me just verify that. Yes, I said that.

Dan Gal - Deutsche Bank

I mean that seems like a pretty significant weakening from prior quarters. I was wondering was the industry in line with that or was GM underperforming the industry in Russia and if you could give us any color on that?

Mike DiGiovanni

Russia, we did underperform in the industry in Q3. Russia was up 9.7%. Those are the facts.

Dan Gal - Deutsche Bank

You have been doing so well with especially the Chevrolet brand in Russia, was there a significant weakening in Opel sales or was it Chevrolet? Do you have any color on that?

Mike DiGiovanni

Jon, do you want to comment?

Jonathan Browning

Sure, Mickey. The overall industry certainly softened in the third quarter. If you look at our performance on a calendar year basis, we still show share growth on a year-to-date basis. But it was really across the industry, across the brands, and there was also quite a bit of action in terms of realigning some incentive spend and generally our participation in the market.

I would characterize it as somewhat balancing the level of aggressiveness with the amount of incentive activity in the market generally. So, we are rebalancing our participation through that third quarter, but our intent is still to grow strongly in the Russian market, but we particularly don't want to see a situation in which the dealers are overstocked, if there is this continued softening in the market growth.

Dan Gal - Deutsche Bank

Okay. Thank you. That's all I have.

Mike DiGiovanni

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of [Raul Jeddah] from JPMorgan. Please proceed with your question.

Raul Jeddah - JPMorgan

Hi. Just following up on Dan's question; could you guys provide a breakup on the industry between Eastern Europe and Western Europe? And a follow-up to that would be, could you comment on how the year-over-year change in volumes in Eastern Europe progressed during the quarter, like at the beginning, and for the later months?

Mike DiGiovanni

I can't provide monthly detail right now, I don't have that in front of me, but Western Europe, let me see if I can get. I've got Western Europe. I don't know if I've got. I think I can provide that to you.

I'm going to, I’ll tell you what. I'm going to take a few minutes to have to get that information in front of me. We have a break out that give between East and West and Central on this chart, I don't see it. So you’re going to have to hold on.

Jonathan Browning

This is Jon. Just in terms of the third quarter from an industry point of view and I don't have the GM breakdown in front of me, but the industry, we saw Eastern Europe continue to be up in the quarter. So that is not just Russia, but it’s also the other former Soviet Union states and a number of smaller markets, but predominantly Russia. Central Europe was down 5%, so that’s predominantly markets like Poland, Romania, and what we call southeast Europe and then Western Europe was off 11%. If we could get the GM breakdown of that from the guys in the room, that will be helpful.

Mike DiGiovanni

For Q3, Western Europe, I don't have the percent in front of me here. It was down 427,000 units. That was the brunt of the decline. Central Europe was down 30,000 units. Eastern Europe, for the quarter, was up about 90,000 units, as I indicated, driven by Russia. That’s the industry. I'm not sure what other part of your question you had.

Raul Jeddah - JPMorgan

I just wanted some sense on how this quarter started, and the exit rate on declines in the non-Russian European markets within this.

Mike DiGiovanni

I think we’ll do that offline. After the sales call, if you want to get a monthly breakdown, we’re going to have to do that offline.

Raul Jeddah - JPMorgan

Okay, great. Thank you, Mike.

Mike DiGiovanni

I will be glad to. You can call Pete, what's the number, Jon? You got a number they can call?

Jonathan Browning

313-667-3714, in the US.

Raul Jeddah - JPMorgan

Alright. Thanks a lot.

Jonathan Browning

Thank you.

Mike DiGiovanni

You’re welcome.

Operator

The following question will conclude the analyst portion. Following this question, we will proceed with the media portion of the question and answer session. (Operator Instructions).

The final analyst question comes from the line of Brendan Miles from Octagon Credit Investors. Please proceed with your question.

Brendan Miles - Octagon Credit Investors

Hi, good morning. Could you talk about the change in sales by region? How much of it was caused by financing constraints and how much of it was what you would consider just the depressed demand? In other words were there buyers that couldn't get financing?

Mike DiGiovanni

Well, I think that in the United States, we really believe that it’s is more of an issue of consumer confidence than it’s an issue of credit availability. There has been some marginal buyers’ compromise by what’s going on in the credit markets, no question about it. But clearly, in our minds, that's not the overwhelming fact causing depressed demand right now.

It’s really, as I said, consumers have been hit by a three-fold blow to their head, if you will. Their housing prices have deteriorated; the value of their homes, they have been hit by huge energy bills and then the financial markets, had went through all of the turmoil. It really did affect some ability to get credit. But mostly it affected their confidence when you put all of those things together and they stopped buying. It’s been exasperated by the negative media that you see as well constantly 24/7 on CNN and other stations. So, they've been bombarded.

We're also seeing in Europe a very similar pattern. Europe's consumer confidence and all the major markets are down and it is following a pattern much like the US. They had housing issues and particularly in the UK and Spain. They had situation where there was inflation prior to the recent slowdown, so there was some tightening by the banks there. Now they've had a consequent fall in consumer confidence; not unlike the US, the pattern is not that dissimilar.

As far as Latin America and Asia-Pacific are concerned, there I think you had a situation of just unbelievable explosive growth as particularly in markets like China that was unsustainable. Latin America, we've seen a tighter tightening of the access to credit by the major banks, particularly Brazil, Chile, murk as all region, which has resulted in increased interest rates and that’s what slowing the economy down there.

Asia-Pacific is still as I indicated particularly the China market, I mean there has been some, there was some tightening of credit by the Chinese and that did slow the economy down, but more recently, they have relaxed that to try to stimulate it again. Then the growth rates are still extremely high, 9% this year, 8% we estimate next year.

So I think and the other factor was the stock market in China affected consumers and business confidence a bit. So, when you put it all together, yeah, Latin America and then Asia-Pacific have been affected but to a much lesser extent than the North America continent and Europe where their patterns of those two regions are very similar in terms of what they're going through in terms of the downturn.

Brendan Miles - Octagon Credit Investors

Those factors seem to be sort of industry wide. I mean to the extent you underperformed in the market in North America, Europe, and Latin America, is that a mix issue, or could that be some financing?

Mike DiGiovanni

Well, we didn't underperform in Latin America. Where did you get that from?

Brendan Miles - Octagon Credit Investors

The Latin America, you said was up 5.8%, and you were up 3.4%. So, you were you up but…

Mike DiGiovanni

We were up, my apology. We were up sales wise. I'm sorry. Well, I think that as. Jon, go ahead, Jon.

Jonathan Browning

Let me just add to your comments. I think you characterized it exactly are correctly in terms of the credit availability generally. Take an example in a very buoyant market like Brazil where we saw generally the level of credit support offers in the market, the terms reducing from 72-month down to 60 months typically. We saw deposits on vehicles going from zero percent up to 20%. So, there has definitely been a tightening in the availability of credit. But that hasn't been the biggest driver in terms of some of the market dynamics out side of North America.

I think if you look at some of the relative performance, you have to dive into some of the details by brand, by market, and probably other market where we've seen the biggest pressure is Western Europe apart from North America and if I take the case, for example, of the Opel Vauxhall brand, our strongest brand in Western Europe, there are a number of factors there obviously.

There’s the general economic impacts and our sales footprint is particularly heavy, and for example the UK and Spain are the markets that have had the most severe impact in the short-term and so there is a bit of a market mix, but then there are also some issues like the CO2 legislation that has been put in place and the availability of some of our vehicle lines. Such as some of the break points of the CO2 legislation. Then as a last factor in Western Europe, for example, is the Opel Vauxhall lines are just going through some product renewal and there is a gap in the cadence of for example the mid segment entry which is in a run out phase now and then is going to be launched at the end of this year, beginning of next year. So when you get down to those specific performance issues, you really need to look by brand, by market, together that cause all factors.

Mike DiGiovanni

This is Mike again. I also want to apologize. We had a major error and it’s in what I read on Russia. So the analysts that asked me the question a few minutes ago, I was reading from a script that had our Russia sales up 0.5%. I went and checked the data. We were actually, Russia sales were up 15%. So, it was a very strong quarter for general motors in Russia. Pardon?

Jonathan Browning

Our market share…

Mike DiGiovanni

Yes, our market. That was supposed to be our market share was up 0.5% calendar year-to-date, so I don't know how that happened. I apologize. Secondly, in Latin America, yes, our growth rate underperformed the industry in the third quarter, but for the full year, we had exceeded the industry growth in Latin America and we’ve actually gained four-tenths of a share point in Latin America calendar year-to-date.

Then Asia-Pacific, calendar year-to-date, we have also gained one-tenth of a share point calendar year-to-date. So, I wanted to clarify those. Europe, calendar year-to-date, we’re down two-tenths of a share point across all three regions. So when you put Europe, Latin America, and Asia-Pacific together calendar year-to-date, we’re up three-tents of a share point in those regions worldwide. Our drop in the market shares for the most part concentrated in North America. I want to make that clear; pretty good performance overall in all of the regions outside of North America and I apologize for that error.

Operator

Our final question comes from the line of [Madiaz Rusch] from the Financial Times Journal. Please proceed with your question.

Madiaz Rusch - Financial Times Journal

Hello, thanks.

Mike DiGiovanni

Hello.

Madiaz Rusch - Financial Times Journal

I have two questions. One is could you tell us a little bit about Opel in Germany and in Europe what’s the Opel brand? The second thing is which role did lower prices play for your sales? Did you put pressure on the prices that you can sell more cars? In which region did you sell? Thank you very much.

Mike DiGiovanni

Well, first, I can give you the data but I will let Jon comment on Opel. Sales, Jon, are down 15.9% in Q3 for Opel Vauxhall, for GM and for the calendar year-to-date, down 6%.

Jonathan Browning

Let me add some comments. Really it’s just reinforcing what I said in response to the earlier question. If you look at the specific development for Opel Vauxhall in the Western European markets, there are a number of factors that are making that performance particularly challenging.

First of all, sales footprint, our sales footprint is strongest in some of the markets with the biggest decline, for example, the UK. In some of the markets like in Spain where there are some very specific CO2 titration breakpoints being put in place and we are in the process of launching some vehicles to match those breakpoints but we’ve been, for example in Spain, with Astra, a 119 gram Astra has not been available through this year, that comes available through the course of the fourth quarter.

Then there are also these overall product cadence issues with Vectra now in its run out phase and the Insignia not yet available for sale that will be launched in Germany in November and then progressively across Europe during the balance of the year and into the first part of next year.

So a number of factors beyond the overall economic and consumer confidence issues that present some challenges. At the same time, you look at the Opel brand, in Eastern Europe and Russia you see a very positive development during the course of this year. So with the diversity of some of the market dynamics in and across Europe, there are definitely some wins and losses for the Opel and Vauxhall brand but it is a period of transition in terms of the product cadence.

Madiaz Rusch - Financial Times Journal

Thank you.

Operator

And Mr. DiGiovanni, there are no further questions at this time.

Mike DiGiovanni

Thank you very much. I appreciate everybody being able to join us today. In summary, we are still setting records in two of our four regions, especially when you look calendar year-to-date and our volume brand Chevrolet is seeing strong growth in the Asia-Pacific, Europe and Latin America and Middle East regions. North America continues to remain challenging. So thank you for taking part in the call with us today and we will speak to you again in January when we review our fourth quarter and annual 2008 results. Goodbye.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude the conference call for today. We thank you for your participation and ask that you please disconnect your lines.

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