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Executives

John McDonald – GM Sales & Marketing Communications

Mike DiGiovanni – GM Executive Director for Global Market and Industry Analysis

Mark R. LaNeve – North American VP of Global Sales, Service, and Marketing

Analysts

Brian Johnson - Barclays Capital

Rod Lache - Deutsche Bank Securities

John Murphy - BAS-ML

Christopher Ceraso - Credit Suisse

Itay Michaeli - Citigroup

Patrick Archambault - Goldman Sachs

Himanshu Patel - J.P. Morgan

Neal E. Boudette - Wall Street Journal

Ken Bensinger - Los Angeles Times

Todd Lasso - Motor Trend

General Motors Corporation (GM) March 2009 Global Sales Call Transcript April 1, 2009 2:00 PM ET

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by. Welcome to the March vehicle sales conference call. (Operator Instructions)

I would now like to turn the conference over to John McDonald. Please go ahead, sir.

John McDonald

Good afternoon, everybody. I'd like to welcome you to GM's March sales call. We're speaking to you, as always, from Detroit, Michigan.

Joining us today are Mike DiGiovanni, Executive Director of Global Market and Industry Analysis. Good afternoon, Mickey.

Mike DiGiovanni

Good afternoon, John.

John McDonald

And Mark LaNeve, North American Vice President of Sales, Service and Marketing. Hello, Mark.

Mark R. LaNeve

Hey, guys.

John McDonald

As is customary, Mike will lead off with an overview of the industry and the market, and Mark will follow with a review of our brand performances. And after our prepared remarks, we'll open the lines for questions, first from the analysts, then from the media.

One housekeeping note here. We'd like to keep the Q&A limited to one question per caller. We've been pretty flexible the past few months. We haven't been able to get all the callers in because of that, so we've done a lot of follow up. So we would ask everybody just to respect everyone else's time.

And as always, if you need additional information after the call, please give me or the folks at GM Investor Relations a call. We'll be happy to follow up with you.

So with that, let's begin. I'd like to turn the call over to Mike DiGiovanni. Mickey?

Mike DiGiovanni

Good afternoon, everyone. I want to give you first a brief overview of the industry, the economic outlook. I also want to touch briefly on the viability plan. Mark's going to get into more detail, as John indicated, on individual brand and product line performance.

I think the big headline this month is that we estimate the seasonally adjusted annual rate for March is going to come in about 10 million units. This is well over what most of the analysts have thought, putting it about 9.2 million. And that's total vehicles I'm talking about, including medium and heavy. So a significant increase over what we thought the industry was going to come in at and a very positive sign, we feel, that the industry at that SAAR is probably starting to show that we've reached hopefully the bottom on sales, with a trough of sales in the United States market, and hopefully we will see continual gains gradually over the course of the year. And I'll touch more on that in a moment regarding the viability plan.

The retail SAAR for the month, total vehicles we're going to estimate's going to come in just under 8 million units. So this places the March numbers on a total SAAR basis as the best since last December, which ran at 10.6. January was 9.8 and February was 9.3.

As we look at the industry numbers, some of this increase was due to fleet, and that's primarily some of the manufacturers such as ourselves starting to finally increase production again and be able to do some fleet sales. Fleet sales for General Motors comprised about 23% of our sales this month. Still not up to normal levels, but we did sell 36,000 fleet units this month, so we're getting back to more normal levels. We expect that number to go up in April to more traditional levels.

Our total sales were 156,380, which was down about 44.7% from March of a year ago. I might point out that the top six OEMs all are down over 36%. And as I indicated earlier, all of them actually came in at estimates or actual sales above our estimates as the industry had a strong close.

The good news for GM is that our March sales were up sharply over February. They were up 23% over February, which indicates, as Mark will get into, some momentum that we're starting to gather in some of our brands and products.

As I look at our inventories as we close March, our inventories are at 766,000 units, down about 15,000 units from last month and down 108,000 units from March of '08, so we're starting to gradually work our inventory situation down.

We look at segment mix; it's kind of an interesting story. We're starting to see, as gas prices are low, we think it's more of a value or affordability element starting to enter into people's budgets that are obviously stressed by the economic situation. Our car percent of the mix that we exhibited this month showed cars at 42%, which was up about 3 share points over our mix of March of '08. Crossovers were up about 5 or 6 points to about 21% over our mix of '08, while trucks correspondingly were down about 9 points from the mix that they exhibited a year ago, down to 37%.

So our crossover mix now at General Motors of about 21% is just about right on with the industry, and our portfolio is moving more towards car sales at the expense of truck sales. I point this out because as we move into the remainder of '09 and '10, as we've stressed many times, we're going to be launching a lot of new cars and crossovers, so as the market is shifting in this direction we think our portfolio is in the right place at the right time.

I would also point out that four-cylinder mix, in line again with this value equation, was the highest since July of '08.

As we look at where things are at in terms of the viability plan, which I know there's increasingly a lot of questions around - and it's a public document so, as Yogi would say, you could look it up - we estimated that the SAAR, the seasonally adjusted annual rate, for the total industry for the first quarter of 2009 would come in at 9.8 million. The actual SAAR is in fact going to come in exactly at 9.8 million. We estimated that GM retail share in the viability plan would come in at 19.0% even. In fact, it's going to come in about 19.1%, so about a tenth higher than we had in the plan.

We estimated our total share because we knew in the first quarter we were going to have very low fleet sales would come in at 18.3%. In fact, we're going to come in at 18.4%, so about a tenth higher.

And on a volume basis, very, very close to the actual numbers. The industry, we're estimating, is going to come in at 2.239 million so roughly about 88,000 units only under where we had thought it would be. Those are total vehicles. And General Motors sales for the first quarter are going to come in about 413,000, which is only 14,000 under what we had estimated for the viability plan and hence we gained a tenth of a share point.

So we're pretty much spot on with Q1. We think this bodes well for our forecast, our baseline forecast for 2009, of 10.5 for the total year as we see some very, very gradual pickup in the second quarter and then in the second half of the year when the stimulus package from the Obama administration takes root.

And I might add that we once again saw China sales outperform the U.S. China sales exceeded that in the U.S. for the third straight month. They've benefited greatly from a stimulus plan on small engines, where there's a sales tax reduction. We saw Brazil also have a very strong month again, running at a 3.1 million SAAR, where they've also had a sales tax reduction on small engine vehicles. And the scrappage program in Germany, we had another successful month where sales were up sharply.

So we're hoping that there's a number of alternative scrappage initiatives and other auto stimulus initiatives being looked at by the administration. We are hoping that we will see one of those take root because frankly the scrappage program could be worth at least 1 million units to us depending on how it's finally formulated - for the industry, I should say.

The last point I wanted to make is as we look at the economic situation, I think what we're seeing in March - and again, you know, we're not saying this is obviously some great numbers  but what is good about it, as I said, is we're seeing some stability in the total SAAR. And we think that there's a number of positive economic factors out there that maybe starting to contribute and gain traction for the industry.

First of all, we're obviously seeing some signs of stabilization in the financial markets, particularly in the housing sector, and finally in private consumption. You know, the stock market is the leading indicator. It's rebounded about 20% from its early March lows. Housing starts jumped 22% in February, which was well beyond what people thought.

Obviously part of this is that home prices are still dropping and that's problematic. However, this drop in home prices along with 30-year mortgages dropping to nearly an all-time low at 4.61% really bodes well for clearing the remaining excess inventory of homes and hopefully bringing a bottom to the housing crisis. And this would be huge news because when home prices stabilize, people are going to feel a lot better about their personal wealth along with the stock market starting to increase.

And this sense of stability would boost customer confidence even in light of rising unemployment. People that are employed would feel much better about their situations and we think that would bode well for car sales. In fact, retail sales excluding auto increased both in February and January, and durable goods orders unexpectedly increased over 3% in February for the first time in seven months.

Obviously there's a lot of uncertainty still out there. We know the unemployment rate, which is a lagging indicator, is going to keep rising and that's the part that we've got to fight through. But overall I think we're seeing maybe the first signs of a brightening in the outlook for the auto industry in March and certainly we all can feel good about that.

With that, I'm going to turn it over to Mark.

Mark R. LaNeve

Great. Thank you, Mickey. Good afternoon, everyone.

Yes, I would say the number one thing that kind of sticks in mind looking back at March is that the industry started to show some signs of life. And I would say our performance and the industry, while still rough read year-over-year numbers for just about everybody, all the major players, from what we thought at the beginning of the month or even the middle of the month, the overall SAAR and year-over-year performance actually came in better.

In other words, we had a strong close as GM, best final day that we've had since going back to September. And we estimate everybody's sales looking at PIN, looking at other data sources throughout the month. Usually Mickey's team comes in really pretty accurate.

And I would tell you that January and February, we were off a couple thousand units; it would be on the downside. In other words, in our sales and our competitors came in lower than we thought. This month just about everybody including ourselves came in a couple thousand above where we thought. And it looks like we're at least at a 10 million unit SAAR, which is a good thing. And I think, as Mickey indicated, maybe we're starting to put the bottom of this in our rearview mirror and show some signs of life.

The industry and GM were both up 23% compared to February. The average over the last five years of February to March seasonality is a 21% increase, so we actually had a slightly better increase as an industry and as General Motors in 2009 than the five-year average. It's another good sign.

Specific to General Motors, our retail mix for March - I want to get into a couple kind of mixed data points  we sold 91% 2009 models, so we've almost completely sold out at this point of past models, which is a good thing, and only 5% of our inventory would be 2008 models or past models. According to PIN, Ford and Chrysler are still selling about 25% of their sales in past models and 2008s. And in one example the Koreans, according to PIN, are in excess of 50% past models.

Our retail mix, Mickey indicates in the total mix cars were 42%, trucks 37%, and crossovers 21%. So every month that goes by we tend to start to looking a lot more like the industry at large in terms of our overall car and crossover percent of our business. We're spot on in our crossovers, where trucks become a little less important part of our overall mix and cars are more important. And, as you all know, our past year's worth of launches and the upcoming ones are all fuel efficient cars, crossovers or hybrids.

In terms of fleet-to-retail mix, some pretty startling numbers. I'll try to go through them slow and I'll be happy to take questions on them. Let me aggregate them for Q1, for the first quarter. We sold 70,505 fleet units, commercial and rental units. That'd be total fleet in the first quarter. That was down 67% year-over-year. Rental, we did 11,000 units for the entire quarter. I remember a few years ago that might be a day we would do 11,000. We did 11,000 for the entire quarter. That was down 90%. So we weren't off nearly as much obviously in the commercial. In fact, we think we held commercial share for the first three months of the year.

Our retail we did 342,000 units in Q1. That was down 42%. We believe the industry was off 36% to 37%, so we did not perform as well as the industry. We're slightly higher year-over-year decrease than the industry. But I'd like to make a couple of points about it.

It's not like our performance was way out of whack of what the industry did. In fact, we estimate we had a major Japanese competitor whose retail performance was actually off more than ours in the first quarter. Ford, Nissan and Toyota were all in excess, we believe, on a retail basis off 38% or higher in the first quarter.

And I think it's a tribute to what has been in general very good product acceptance of our products that we brought to market in the last two to three years, and really a remarkable job by the retail team, including our dealers, who do a terrific job in spite of what I think you'd all agree was probably the most negative news cycle anyone could possibly imagine. So I think it's really extraordinary, I believe, in a way, despite really obviously tough numbers. You know, I like to look and talk to the team about just think what we can do when we get this all behind us because obviously it's a very, very difficult industry environment and, in particular, GM environment to sell retail vehicles.

And we had that performance with doing zero factory supported leasing. If you put in our industry average of 16% leasing, we would have outperformed all the other major OEMs if you factor that in, you know, a normal amount of leasing, into the performance.

In terms of incentive spend, in March we were about $4,200 a unit. That's down $400 from February. It was the biggest move down in the industry; I think largely reflecting that we're selling mainly '09s. And it was down $100 year-over-year from March of 2008, so obviously a positive move from a profitability standpoint in terms of our incentive spend.

Tied right into this, GMAC every month continues to gain momentum, get their footing back under them. Their approval rates were over 62% in the month of March. It's been climbing. And they recently, I think today, made announcements that they're going to continue to lower vehicle financing costs and they're going to re-enter at some level - cautiously, but at some level - subprime buyers, that's with credit bureau scores below 620. And then they have at least $5 billion of smoking hot cash ready to lend to help us do business in the next 60 days, which is a good number.

The last point I'd like to make, I indicated on the last call, I think in response to a question, that we were looking at owner-type assurance programs. And we actually were looking at it and studying it and have been hard at work at this, it seems here, for a couple of months. We wanted to bring a really good program and be very organized when we hit the market. And we announced yesterday the GM Total Confidence Plan. It's generated unbelievable interest on the consumer media side just in a 24-hour window. It was the number one search term yesterday on natural search.

Our program, we went out and talked to customers. We said in addition to incentives  which, you know, tended not to have great elasticity in this kind of market - what will it take to get you back to the market?

They wanted great warranty protection. Of course they want a good vehicle, which we believe we have in every segment. They wanted great warranty protection. We have that, best in the industry, 500,000 power train, safety and security OnStar. But very importantly, they wanted to be protected in case of a job loss and they wanted to be protected against resale value loss, not because of anything particular to GM - you would hear that on occasion - but more as an industry. Last year everybody lost residual value and they either got stung themselves or heard about it, so they wanted some reassurances there.

And our program provides all four, with the warranty, OnStar, vehicle value protection, which is the resale protection, and payment protection, which is in the first few years of ownership we'll cover up to nine months of payments of $500 a month should you lose your source of income.

We've had great reaction already, a lot of Internet, physical traffic into our dealerships. I just got off of a dealer broadcast explaining all the details. They're very excited about it. And this is in some ways becoming a new go to market strategy for the industry. We believe we're out there with the best package, a very comprehensive design by our customers and hopefully it'll allow us to carry some momentum off the close and into the month of April.

So with that, John, I'll turn it back to you.

John McDonald

Thanks very much, Mark. Operator, that wraps up our prepared remarks. If we could take questions, just give our listeners instruction on how to queue up, that'd be great.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Your first question comes from Brian Johnson - Barclays Capital.

Brian Johnson - Barclays Capital

In terms of the German-style scrappage program which the president endorsed yesterday  or, excuse me, on Monday - you mentioned a 1 million number. Ford had a similar number. Can you kind of take us through maybe some of the market segmentation logic that gets you there because the actual response rate in Germany scaled to the U.S. would be a far greater number.

Mike DiGiovanni

Yes. I'm looking here to see if I've got it with me. I don't have all - I don't think I brought it with me. Ted, I don't know if you've got the - but anyway, the bottom line is there's a couple different things being looked at.

There's a bill, Mr. Sutton's bill, that provide buyers vouchers of about $3,000 to $5,000 if they turn in cars that are eight years or older and they buy a new car that gets at least 24 miles per the gallon or a truck that gets 27 miles per gallon. This is highway. The money could also be used for mass transit.

The other bill is Mr. Feinstein's bill, which would provide incentives of $2,500 to $4,500 if the clunker could get no more than 18 miles per gallon, the vehicle they're trading in. The new car would have to exceed fuel efficiency standards for its class by at least 25 percent. Mr. Feinstein's bill, it wouldn't cover vehicles that cost more than $45,000, while Mr. Sutton's bill would cap the price at $35,000.

You know, this cash for clunkers obviously is appealing to many of the lawmakers. Dan Weiss, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, independently says the stimulus contains $91 billion for clean energy, $3.3 billion for clean vehicles, and some of that money could be used for this scrappage program, which we estimate would cost $1 to $2 billion a year.

We've done a couple different takes on this. It depends if it's more of a general scrappage program with more latitude. You can get plus sales probably in the neighborhood of 1.5 million net plus, plus I think it's total 3 million, about 1.5 million net plus because there'll be some pull forward out of 2010. If we do a more conservative scrappage program with restrictions, the low end estimate is probably about 900,000 net plus sales, a total of 1.8 net plus about 0.9.

So it really depends. There's a wide range. But the ballpark net plus overall including pull ahead, you gain about 900,000 to about 1.5 million sales.

Brian Johnson - Barclays Capital

Right. But then the gross number, if it's well designed -

Mike DiGiovanni

The gross number's twice that.

Brian Johnson - Barclays Capital

It could be closer to 3. Okay.

Mike DiGiovanni

The gross number goes from 1.8 to about 3 million, yes.

Brian Johnson - Barclays Capital

And do you have a sense of timing of these various legislations because it seemed like the president was actually ahead of his task force in advocating this.

Mike DiGiovanni

We're hoping something. We don't know. We haven't heard anything that they've shared with us other than we know they're looking at it. And I have a feeling that if they do something, logic would tell you they would do that fairly soon, because you want to do it when the economy's extremely weak like it is right now and the industry is hopefully having a little bit of a comeback here. That would be nice timing.

Operator

Your next question comes from Rod Lache - Deutsche Bank Securities.

Rod Lache - Deutsche Bank Securities

Can you talk a little bit about the cost of some of the new programs, the assurance program and residual support program, and also just give us color on your expectations for going forward into the spring selling season with all the conflicting noise between the administration's announcement and the new programs, how you see that playing out for GM.

Mark R. LaNeve

In terms of the cost of our Total Confidence package, the elements on payment protection and vehicle value protection are an insurance package that we're working. We're going to obviously make it turnkey for our customers and our dealers and have it branded GM, but it's backed up by an outside insurance company.

It has a very high perceived value. Obviously it would be in our best interest and the customer's best interest if it never gets used. That would mean resale values have tracked according to the way they are now, which is improving, and that the customer doesn't lose their job. So it's built in like any other insurance policy.

I think we build it right into our overall April, you know, funding it into our overall April incentive programs so in essence it's not incremental cost. We build it right in in lieu of other retail incentives that might be in the marketplace.

We're hoping that this program will provide traffic, will provide a lift to our sales. Certainly talking to customers and examining our own data from an elasticity standpoint, traditional incentives and the marketing of them - and when I say traditional, rebates, APR, etc.  has had limited elasticity; not anything what you would normally see or historically see.

So we think customers are looking for these kinds of reassurances - well, we know for a fact; we went out and talked to thousands of them - and they're looking for somebody that looks like they care about their issues and their concerns.

So, you know, Rod it's, as I said earlier, Obama's announcements I feel were very positive in terms of the future of the domestic industry, the future of General Motors. The government backstopping the warranty, I think that all helps. Obviously, the 50 million iterations daily of our plans and everything, some help, some don't. But as I said earlier, I think it's amazing we've done what we've done and continue to hold our leadership position. I think it's a tribute to our great dealers and the great products we have in the market.

So I think we have the worst behind us. I don't think it's going to snap back, but I look for April to be a little bit better than March.

Rod Lache - Deutsche Bank Securities

And your incentive spending, you said that this is built into your April incentive plans, but is your incentive spending up versus where it's been running or on a year-over-year basis?

Mark R. LaNeve

Normal incentive spend trends, once you clear out the past models, which we have, you would tend to go up a little bit March to April, April to May, May to June, as you work through build out. So, you know, we will be up a little bit in overall incentive spending in April compared to March, Rod, but not dramatically so. That's very normal.

Operator

Your next question comes from John Murphy - BAS-ML.

John Murphy - BAS-ML

I'm just wondering in the face of some pretty negative deluge of news that’s going on out there for you specifically and in a tough market, you're fighting pretty evenly with your competitors, which is impressive. I'm just trying to understand why in the face of all that there might not be a greater hit to your sales. I mean, it is pretty impressive. Is there anything going on at the dealer level where the dealers are incenting the sales at their level to clear out their inventory? It's just an interesting phenomenon that the sales are holding in there relatively evenly with the market.

Mike DiGiovanni

I'm going to let Mark answer most of this, but I do want to point out one thing that is quite interesting that's, I think, helping us. And that's we've looked at consideration  we look at it and we track it and we do a lot of research on all the negative news and how it's affecting us  and you read a lot about it, okay? But most of those questions and research we do are done externally. Ask people if this company went bankrupt what would you feel about it  you know, they point blank ask people that question  they say, oh, I'd avoid them. You know, big numbers.

But then we also have information from other stuff we do - product clinics, focus groups, Internet research - where you just generally ask the public general questions about various companies and their products, we're like constantly amazed. The average consumer doesn't even know about some of this stuff. I mean, I know it sounds hard to believe, but they say oh, I didn't know that this is not a GM core brand anymore. I didn't know that.

So my point is when you don't ask a point blank question - like we have some surveys that just track GM brand consideration and divisional brand consideration - and what we're seeing is the GM brand gets dinged big time. You know, in terms of considering a GM vehicle when you use the umbrella corporate GM, it's way down. But when you look at Chevrolet, Cadillac and our other brands, they haven't changed.

So the GM brand is taking a beating, being the shield, for the most part, and the average person doesn't, from all the research we're doing, when the question's not point to them point blank about bankruptcy, most people don't seem to know about it. It's hard to believe.

Mark R. LaNeve

Yes, John, first of all I appreciate you saying that, recognizing that and saying that.

And I would say that's the point I was going to make, is that our divisional brands, which are really the consumer brands - we're the only manufacturer that has kind of this quandary of our corporate brand, GM, is not a consumer brand, which is always a matter of debate how much we even talk about GM as a consumer brand, but certainly it's been in the news and not in a good way, that's obvious - but our divisional brands' opinion and consideration have held up really well.

And in fact, in the case of Chevy and GMC, have increased over the last six months and at the same time while GM's been in a lot of negative news out there. And they increased in the right way - on design, on quality, on elements around fuel economy  so I think that's really positive.

And I really believe our move several years ago, where we really were out in front of our competition on spending dollars in search, on digital media, that can be a high level of engagement. A customer can spend hours researching if they want. I think that helps us overcome some of the perceptual gaps that we have out there because customers can go to any of the independent sites or our own sites and get real data on our product versus the competition, customer reviews, competitive reviews, expert reviews. And our products universally have been pretty critically acclaimed, even though we've had all these obviously very difficult corporate financial results to deal with.

Mike DiGiovanni

Yes, I would just note that some of the surveys that we've done internally on our own have showed that the consumer doesn't shy away from a bankrupt manufacturer. I'd be happy to share that data with you, but, I mean, I think that's bearing out right not in the market with what's going on.

John Murphy - BAS-ML

I'd like to see it.

Mark R. LaNeve

And I think Obama's comments help that. I really do.

Mike DiGiovanni

Yes. And I would add I think - I mean, it's too early to tell; you know, Obama's comments were only on Monday, today's Wednesday - but it may have given the whole industry a lift because everybody closed stronger than we thought, like I indicated.

We're pretty good at this, doing it every month, and all of a sudden everybody was up over what we thought they would be across all six OEMs. Something had to be going on. It might have been Obama's assurance that he was backing us and Chrysler may have had a halo effect on people feeling more confident about the whole car industry.

Because a lot of people, frankly, I think that's what you're indicating, John, don't understand all this and who's under the limelight and who's under the glaring lights and who's not, which manufacturers are good, which ones aren't, blah, blah, blah. I don't think the average person understands all that. So Obama may have reassured consumers in general.

Operator

Your next question comes from Christopher Ceraso - Credit Suisse.

Christopher Ceraso - Credit Suisse

Do you think that these programs where you guarantee the payments for people if they lose their job, like the one you just introduced, do you think these have the ability to raise the overall level of industry sales or do you think it's going to be more of a market share play where the guys that introduce it get the sales at the expense of the folks that don't?

Mark R. LaNeve

That's a very good question. Chris, I'm really confident we're going to create interest with this. I can see it already. I've been doing this awhile. I think it helped our close yesterday. Even though the program was effective today, I think just the news around it did. It's tough to calibrate what the degree would be.

If we are successful this month with it, much like other leading programs we've done  Keep America Rolling, which was zero financing, or Zero for 72, our employee discount  we will get widely copied and it might have a chance to lift the industry.

I think in the meantime I'm hoping that it helps our performance. And where we land on share is where we land. I mean, we're very focused on very specific targets, as Mickey indicated earlier, in our viability plan. We're actually ahead of those - not by much, but we're ahead of those through first quarter - And we think we've got the right play in the market for April. And if it's successful I'm certain we'll be widely copied.

Christopher Ceraso - Credit Suisse

I think in past months, Mark, you had made a comment about the level of showroom traffic as it relates to the level of sales and showroom traffic wasn't down as much as sales, suggesting that part of the problem was that consumers couldn't close because maybe they couldn't get credit. Do you have some metrics around that for the month of March? How was your overall showroom traffic relative to the 40-odd percent decline in sales?

Mark R. LaNeve

It takes awhile to clear some of that data, Chris. Indications are that from what we've seen  it'd be more early in the month data  that closing rates have improved slightly. They've continued to do that. Part of that is our own data because GMAC's buying a much higher level of, you know, a much higher approval rate; it's 62%, as I indicated earlier. And there is across every OEM a relatively high level of incentives, which always helps getting deals done.

So I think they're improving. Every indication we have seems to point that way. And they should be getting back up to normal levels here pretty soon, and then you'll just be dealing with an overall, you know, how big is the industry.

Christopher Ceraso - Credit Suisse

And then just a last housekeeping question. I think you said last month that GMAC underwrote about 35% of your sales. What was that number for this month?

Mark R. LaNeve

Anybody have that?

Mike DiGiovanni

You had it. You showed it to us this morning.

Mark R. LaNeve

I don't have it readily available, Chris. Hang on. Let me see if somebody's got it.

Operator, you can move on. I'll come back and answer that for Chris.

Christopher Ceraso - Credit Suisse

Thank you guys.

Mark R. LaNeve

Thanks, Chris. I think it's about the same. It might have ticked up.

Operator

Your next question comes from Itay Michaeli - Citigroup.

Itay Michaeli - Citigroup

Mark, when you were evaluating the Total Confidence plan, can you walk us through the decision to provide the payment upon a job loss as opposed to actually allowing the customer to return the vehicle with the residual value backstop? You know, what was the difference in your mind on going one way versus the other? Was it cost or just strategically do you think our plan is better?

Mark R. LaNeve

Thank you for the question. Just to clean up Chris's question. We show our penetration through some point late in the month right around 34% - 35%, GMAC penetration, almost identical. It might be just a percent lower, but we won't know until we clear the close, get that data back from GMAC. But I'd say, Chris, almost identical.

In answer to your question on our program, our payment protection, talking to customers and I guess our own people's feelings about it as we discussed the various programs out there is that if you lose your job the last thing you need to do is lose your car. I mean, you talk about a tough day. Honey, I lost my job and, by the way, I've got to return the car. You know?

So, I mean, we feel like if you lose your job you've still got a family that you've got to get around. You've got to go out and look for another job. You may live in a place that doesn't have public transportation available. So we felt like that primary is the customer being able to retain the vehicle.

Every study that we looked at, nine months is more than adequate for returning to the job market and hopefully over the next two years we'll get an improving economy and improving employment. So we really felt our program was the most customer friendly.

And, as we talked to customers about what they want to see, that's exactly what they wanted to see. They wanted to see comprehensive wraparound protection, payment protection on job loss and value protection in case of some kind of disruption in the secondary market on resale values.

So we feel like we've got all the bases covered.

Itay Michaeli - Citigroup

Great. And then what's your sense of whether other of your competitors may adopt similar programs, particularly the transplant or the import OEMs?

And then, if that were to occur, might you perhaps reduce the 90-day minimum that somebody has to keep their job after purchasing a car or how do you think about the next few months as the industry continues to gain momentum with these plans?

Mark R. LaNeve

Well, it'll be interesting to see where it goes. I look at this offer as a very high value offer in the market, very brand friendly as opposed to other kind of incentives or market stimulus that we might put in the market.

Years ago there were just rebates and then, as we all do, we got creative with APRs and leasing and loyalty programs and other things. So, you know, we may be at the beginning here of a new go to market avenue.

And, you know, like any other incentive, we will have to be competitive on a brand-by-brand, model-by-model basis.

We feel like we've got a very comprehensive best in class, actually unprecedented - no one's ever done value protection - program out in the market, and if we get copied, we'll take a look at what everybody else does and we'll adjust accordingly.

But I tell you what, there's a whole activity system attached with this. You can't snap your fingers. The program that we have took, not a long time, but it took a decent amount of time to really get it right and make sure that we could administrate it, that our dealers understood it, that we had a backstop, you know, being able to communicate it, get it on our websites. So this isn't like somebody could decide they're going to get into this tomorrow. It takes awhile to really do it right.

Operator

Your next question comes from Patrick Archambault - Goldman Sachs.

Patrick Archambault - Goldman Sachs

First, last time you gave a pretty good overview of the retail sales environment for the entire market, just how I guess it had been trending sort of slightly above 8 million on a SAAR basis and I think went down to maybe, I want to say 7, 7.7 or something like that last time.

Mike DiGiovanni

It went to 7.8 last month.

Patrick Archambault - Goldman Sachs

7.8. Can you tell us, do you have a sense of where we've wound up on a retail basis for March?

Mike DiGiovanni

Yes, I would characterize it this way. I'll give you the exact numbers I have in front of me here. October, the industry retail SAAR ran at 8.5, November was 8.2, December was 8.2, January was 8.8, February was 7.8, and March was 7.9.

And if you remember from the sales call last month, I made the point was February an anomaly and January an anomaly, where January was artificially high and February artificially low. They didn't seem to make sense, why it went up so much in January and down so much in February. February's kind of a weird month because of the number of days. January had the benefit of some carryover incentives from December. So we said we're hoping that on average the truth lies somewhere in between and that March wasn't going to continue to drop like February did.

So the good news is we think the SAAR for March is going to be, for retail, 7.9, 8.0, something like that. It's up slightly from February, and that's closer to where we were back in November/December. So hopefully, you know, 8.2, 8.0, 7.8, you're kind of in the ballpark that makes us start to believe that you may be seeing this thing bottoming out and bouncing around on the bottom here.

And the strong close that we saw across, as I said, the top six OEMs that frankly surprised us - it probably surprised everybody; it probably surprised the other OEMs as well  it might be that there's some momentum perhaps starting to build at the end of March as we go into April. And now with these programs that ourselves and some of our competitors have in place on customer protection could break through and maybe we'll get - imagine that - some momentum going.

Mark R. LaNeve

Yes, I think, Patrick, too, a critical number that I'm looking at is that the industry was up 23% February to March. Our performance tracked that exactly. And, you know, typically you're up 21%. And what that means is normal seasonality entering the spring market, you know, spring selling season, held up; it actually performed a little bit better than normal even at a very low industry level. If it had went out of that normative range, I would have been really scared because that would have meant normal seasonality patterns were broken and that the consumer was completely freaked out.

So the fact that it held the normal seasonality, actually outperformed it a little bit heading into the spring selling season, I think is a very good sign, even at still what is a very low overall industry level.

Patrick Archambault - Goldman Sachs

And I'm sorry, just that 21% normal seasonal uptick, sequentially is that for total SAAR or is that for retail?

Mark R. LaNeve

It would be total, but I think retail matches. It's total volume, but retail matches it almost exactly the same. I believe it's roughly 20% - 21% retail and total February to March.

Patrick Archambault - Goldman Sachs

And I guess - I'm sorry, I know you said it - in terms of like a light SAAR, what are you sort of thinking about for March as you kind of look at the data so far?

Mike DiGiovanni

Well, you can look at - I think the total's going to come in - we think a light SAAR's going to be 9.8 million total [inaudible].

Patrick Archambault - Goldman Sachs

So I guess the only thing I would say, though, is it does look like - would you agree with me that it seems like an improvement in fleet sales is going to explain most of the sequential uptick, right?

Mike DiGiovanni

I would say that it's definitely an improvement if fleet sales contributed, but also a slight uptick in the retail SAAR.

Patrick Archambault - Goldman Sachs

Sure. And that's definitely a good thing. I mean, I'm certainly not denying that.

Mike DiGiovanni

Yes.

Mark R. LaNeve

Yes, retail didn't get worse, Patrick. It ticked up and you got a bigger bounce in fleet, you're right. But retail certainly didn't go the other way. It ticked up slightly and you got a bigger bounce in fleet on a SAAR basis.

Patrick Archambault - Goldman Sachs

Okay. And what was, just for housekeeping, what was the retail versus fleet share for GM for the month?

Mike DiGiovanni

It's 23% fleet, 77% retail. So we're still not back. As Mark said, we're grossly under for the first quarter. What's our total share of - I have it here somewhere.

Mark R. LaNeve

We get [inaudible][342,000] retail and -

Mike DiGiovanni

We're only running 10 -

Mark R. LaNeve

70,000 fleet in the first quarter.

Mike DiGiovanni

So we ran 17% fleet for the first quarter. We were at 23% fleet for March, so we did, you know, we're getting back to somewhat normal levels, which tend to be, you know, 27% - 28%, maybe some, you know, 29%, in that range.

So, you know, that's going to bode well for, say, April because, as I indicated, I'm fairly confident fleet sales are going to increase in April over March. You can quote me on that.

Patrick Archambault - Goldman Sachs

One follow up one is there's - obviously there's been so many things this month, but, you know, one of the things that everybody was debating before was like the potential impact of the TALF. And, I guess, on the one hand there's some people who thought that, you know, it was kind of a positive but maybe more of a longer-term positive, and there were others who thought it would in fact, you know, help sales right now, right, just by lowering the cost of credit and that sort of stuff.

And I just wanted to get your take on that. I remember you guys discussing - I think you're among the only people who put out an estimate of like the people who didn't really get bought and what impact that was having on SAAR, and I just want to get your thoughts on that.

Mike DiGiovanni

I would just say the TALF, we did see this move up by GMAC, you know. I think, Mark, you talked about that, didn't you? That, I mean, they're going, in terms of injectional liquidity, it's going to go across all credit scores, but they've announced they're going to go down into some of the subprime credit scores so that, I think, may indirectly come from the TALF. I'm not 100% sure, but I'm sure it's related.

Mark R. LaNeve

We're clearly not losing as much business just over lack of financing as we were a few months ago. GMAC is largely getting back to normal other than we haven't re-entered the lease market. When I say normal, you know, we had gotten around 80% approval rates years ago but, I mean, typically it ran in the 65% to 75% range, so we're getting back more to normal, and I think it'll continue to normalize.

And, you know, we're doing about 10% - 15% of our business in a given market through our credit union program, and by and large those customers finance through the credit union at very good rates, roughly, you know, 4.5% - 5%.

So, you know, we're accessing other resources other than GMAC and GMAC continues to, as I said, kind of get their footing back under them, so those are all positive signs.

Mike DiGiovanni

We're also seeing, you know, I'm looking here at the credit scores over 700 and all the manufacturers are kind of trending similar here, very similar, but I'll just give you GM's number. About 77% of our sales, our retail sales were about [where credit scores of 700 in January. That fell off to 74% in February,] and it looks like it's about 73% in March. So, you know, we're seeing some gradual falling.

That number wants to get down to - it would be nice if that number got down to about 67%, which would be, you know, more normal levels. So we're starting to move in that direction.

Operator

Your last question from the analysts comes from Himanshu Patel - J.P. Morgan, which will be followed afterwards with questions from the media.

Himanshu Patel - J.P. Morgan

Did you guys talk about the timing of when you think there would be some payback starting to come through the market for any sort of scrapping program? Is it sort of six months later, a year later? Any thoughts on that?

Mike DiGiovanni

About six months. So let's say you enacted it here in the second quarter. They said that we've got a range where it could be anywhere from total increase in sales of about 2 million to 3 million, depending on the program, 50% payback. You start to see it within about six months. But the net plus is 50%, so it's 3 million; you'll gain about 1.5 million industry sales.

Mark R. LaNeve

It's a high net plus because a large percentage of those customers wouldn't have entered the new vehicle market. They would have been entering the used vehicle market. You have some that it's their third or fourth vehicle that they bring in on it, but for a lot of people it's their primary vehicle and they would not be buying new vehicles, so you get a very high net plus. That's what we've seen in Germany so far.

Himanshu Patel - J.P. Morgan

But, I mean, Germany hasn't had a payback period yet, so are you saying that's what Germany saw in prior scrapping programs? Because, I mean, Europe's flirted with this historically on and off for two decades.

Mike DiGiovanni

We base that on scrappage programs that have historically occurred in many different countries over time. We've looked at them all. That's the rule of thumb; about six months start to see payback. Again, it varies, but roughly 50% payback.

Mark R. LaNeve

And Himanshu, what I was referring to, I can't remember the exact data, but it was -

Mike DiGiovanni

Germany's new.

Mark R. LaNeve

Yes. But it was a fairly high level that was their primary vehicle. There was people that normally would have bought used vehicles that were taking advantage of the program, much higher than  I can't remember the data source, the exact numbers, but it was much higher than the levels that those folks would have been buying new vehicles as opposed to used.

But my assumption is a lot of that is net plus. You know, there wouldn't be necessarily payback. But you're right; it hasn't been running long enough to know.

Himanshu Patel - J.P. Morgan

Have you guys given any thought to what the impact of these scrapping programs could be on used prices? I mean, you've got sort of the near-term impact of diverting potentially a lot of potential customers from the used market into the new market, which could hurt prices, and you've got the broader issue of, you know, for awhile you're going to have new car prices that are pretty cheap and the consumer's always looking at that gap, so that could push down used values as well. Any thoughts on that?

Mark R. LaNeve

We haven't done a deep analysis on that. You know, the used market, in terms of the retail used market, has been so strong lately that if it's done, I think the industry could absorb it in a relatively orderly manner.

And my reasoning behind that is supply in the used market, even at today's low industry levels, is really down, which is driving used car prices, depending on the segment, pretty high because you've had a very low and declining industry for almost four years now. And you've had everybody lowering daily rent sales and to some extent lowering leasing, so we're drying up supply in the secondary market, which is good for resale values. This would have an effect on it. We'd have to study, but we don't see it as dramatic.

Mike DiGiovanni

Yes, I think it'll affect more small car used prices than large car used prices because people who tend to take advantage of a scrappage program, you know, they've got to buy a high fuel efficient small car instead of a used small car. Large car buyers or people who prefer large cars aren't going to switch because they want to stay in a large car.

Himanshu Patel - J.P. Morgan

Ford mentioned, I think, in a passing reference that they had seen an uptick in the amount of cash buyers coming through the showrooms. You guys have any color on that?

Mark R. LaNeve

I'm looking at the data. It looks like a 1% increase. Yes, like a 100 basis point increase February to March. And I'd call this data preliminary. So nothing dramatic. To be honest with you, that might be normal seasonal for all I know. But we weren't sensing that. It looked like, you know, there wasn't anything that we saw that was a dramatic increase of cash buyers.

The only thing that would really drive it is if you were starting to get credit lines on home equity restored, if people were accessing those. And some of that may be going on, which would be great because we know about 10% of that money is used for vehicle purchases, but I'm not sure enough of that's happened yet to really impact the new vehicle market.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, we now will be taking questions from the media only. (Operator Instructions)

Your first question comes from Neal E. Boudette - The Wall Street Journal.

Neal E. Boudette - The Wall Street Journal

I'm kind of curious as to how you think these sales numbers will affect the decision at the Treasury? You know, GM's still down 40% plus. I know there's some optimism here, but the numbers don't seem to be changing much. I just wonder how you think -

Mike DiGiovanni

Yes, to answer your question, were you on the line earlier when I went through our forecast versus the viability plan that we laid out to the government? I don't know if you heard that.

Neal E. Boudette - The Wall Street Journal

I did not hear that.

Mike DiGiovanni

Yes. We laid out - I'll just quickly review it.

Neal E. Boudette - The Wall Street Journal

Sorry about that.

Mike DiGiovanni

We are spot on with what is in our viability plan, which is a public document and you can look it up.

Neal E. Boudette - The Wall Street Journal

The government said the viability plan wasn't adequate. That's what I'm getting to.

Mike DiGiovanni

Let me get to your question. First of all, we laid out a 10.5 million industry for calendar year '09. We said it would start out weak. Part of that is because fleet sales would be weak in the first quarter.

We estimated that SAAR - seasonally adjusted annual rate - for Q1 would run at 9.8 million: it's going to come in exactly at 9.8 million.

And we estimated GM retail share was going to come in at 19% of that 9.8 million. In fact, it's coming in at 19.1, we estimate.

And total share, we estimated it would be 18.3 because our fleet sales are going to be down severely, and we came in at 18.4, up a tenth over the viability plan.

In fact, we're within 12,000 - 14,000 units of our forecast for GM volume and within 88,000 units of the industry volume for Q1. So that's about as close as you can shoot.

And as we move forward to Q2 and on - and I think this is your question - we've estimated that there will be, because of the stimulus package the Obama administration's put in place, a gradual pickup as the economy recovers, so you'll end the year at 10.5.

Now that said, we also have a downside scenario, which is in the public document, of 9.5 million. We look at both of them.

The 9.5 million scenario would come into play if things didn't improve over where they are in the first quarter. Let's just say they just don't get better.

We look at both numbers in planning and the government is asking the question, I think, what if it doesn't get better? You know, are you prepared for that?

Mark R. LaNeve

Yes. So, Neal, I don't think our March sales results, either GM or the industry, affects the Treasury's viewpoint of our viability plan positively or negatively. I don't think it affects it one bit.

I could tell you that the administration and the Treasury, there's a lot of things about our viability plan that they were very impressed with, a lot of progress that we made that they're very impressed with. But all in all, their viewpoint at the end was that, given normal business cycles  and we're certainly in the down part of a cycle, in fact, an abnormally low down part  that we didn't demonstrate viability to the degree they'd like to see it.

We take that as very serious feedback both in terms of what they want us to do with the balance sheet, in terms of what they want us to do operationally in terms of going faster on some of the restructuring and reinventing of the company that we're doing, in some cases more broadly than we laid out in the original viability plan, and we are in the process of doing that.

But I don't think March results affect it on iota positively or negatively.

Operator

Your next question comes from Ken Bensinger - Los Angeles Times.

Ken Bensinger - Los Angeles Times

Just a quick question about the new incentive program that you guys rolled out yesterday. One of the things that I saw as a concern was that, while the Hyundai program was obviously very successful for them, once other people start adopting similar or even improved similar programs you get to the point where it soon becomes the industry standard and the ability to grab conquest and that sort of thing evaporates pretty quickly because everyone's offering some variation of the same theme.

How much of an impact on sales do you think this might have and is that going to taper off over time? I know it's a relatively short period, but it seems that if other people jump on it sort of takes all the fun away.

Mark R. LaNeve

Well, Ken, I think that it's a great program for us and for the customer right now, because certainly the customer has said - we know consumer confidence got crushed in the fourth quarter. Consumers have been barraged with bad news almost constantly for months now. It totally has, you know, preoccupied the new administration. I feel like I see a news conference every night attacking some problem in the banking or financial industry, as an example.

So this is exactly what the customers told us they'd like to see from any manufacturer. And I think specifically GM, it's really timely because obviously there'll be questions out there right now about GM. So, I mean, we're not naïve to those.

So we feel it's a very good program for us for right now. We announced it for one month only. We didn't say we're going to institutionalize these. We'll certainly continue it if it's successful. But we think it's very appropriate and I think under any logic you say it's better than adding $500 or $1,000 to the car. I mean, we know that hasn't worked in the last six months, incremental cash on the hood. There's very little elasticity in this market. What's selling is high perceived value, and we believe this Total Confidence package has very high perceived value.

Ken Bensinger - Los Angeles Times

Is it actually potentially less expensive for you than adding more cash to the hood of a car? It seems like this might, because of the way it's structured and, as you said, because residual values could stay high, this might actually be a cheaper way to get people buying than traditional incentives.

Mark R. LaNeve

As I said, I don't want to get into what we're spending on it, but we believe the lift sales that we'll get is much higher than the equivalent cash if you spent that on cash.

Operator

Your next question comes from Todd Lasso - Motor Trend.

Todd Lasso - Motor Trend

I'm trying to get a sense of, you've been so optimistic about where the numbers are going in relation to the rest of the industry, yet you've been a few percentage points greater in terms of your decrease over the past, this month and previous months, actually probably going back into the fall. And I wondered if you could just kind of give me an idea of where, rather than just individual models, where are you losing sales most? What type of vehicle or what segments? Are we talking about the non-Chevy, non-Cadillac divisions? Where are the biggest drops coming?

Mark R. LaNeve

Todd, you're speaking that our year-over-year performance the last couple of months has been a few percentage worse than the rest of the industry. Is that what you're referring to?

Todd Lasso - Motor Trend

Yes. Yes, basically, yes.

Mark R. LaNeve

Okay. I'd categorize it in two key areas is that we're not participating in the lease market at all, so if we were doing a normal percentage - so you've got to figure if leasing is 17% of the industry, we're competing in 83% of the industry because we're not competing in that market at all, and some of our primary competitors are actually going up in their lease penetration. So if you factor that in we would have basically outperformed the other major OEMs the last few months if you do the financial - not the financial, the mathematical calculation around that.

We also to a certain extent we get mix affected. So if you look at our trailing share on the key categories  trucks, cars and crossovers - our market share performance has been really stable. But as trucks have declined as a percent of the industry, because of our leadership position in trucks, obviously that affects our overall results.

And then I think negative news about GM has had, I mean, it'd be crazy not to think that hasn't had some negative effect. As I said, I'm amazed we've done in some cases as well as we have. I don't have an exact split on retail, but if you look at March results, year-over-year Chevy brand did the same as the Ford brand and there's been a dramatic difference in the news around the two companies.

So we've got great products, well received, excellent dealers that sell them, and I think I've got a retail team here that knows how to market them and sell them even in a tough environment. So I am optimistic basically even though we continue to be in a very tough market.

Todd Lasso - Motor Trend

And just to clarify, your total market share right now as it stands is 18.4%?

Mark R. LaNeve

19.1% for Q1, but it's actually less than that on a fleet basis.

Mike DiGiovanni

And Mark, what was the number we sold, how many less fleet did you say?

Mark R. LaNeve

We were down 67% in fleet for Q1. We were down 42% in retail versus an industry that was off 36.5% retail, something like that.

Mike DiGiovanni

Down, you mean?

Mark R. LaNeve

Yes, down 36.5%.

Mike DiGiovanni

So that's really not performing much different than the industry for Q1.

Todd Lasso - Motor Trend

But you are about 5.5 points retail below industry or a greater drop than industry?

Mark R. LaNeve

Yes, Todd. And I'm not making excuses for it or trying to hide from it, okay?

What I'm saying, as I said during my comments, is okay, we're off 42% retail Q1. According to our numbers Nissan's off 44%. There's hasn't been any bad news about Nissan that I've read. Toyota's off 38%, Ford off 39% - 40%. So we're not out of the range. It's not like we're off 70% and the rest of them are off 20%, you see what I'm saying?

Todd Lasso - Motor Trend

Sure.

Mark R. LaNeve

So I think we've hung in there relatively well. We get this news behind us, I think that bodes very well for us.

And I believe it's fundamentally a function of very good product acceptance and very strong critical reviews of our product in publications just like the one you represent.

Mike DiGiovanni

The other thing I would add is that 2008 was a pretty lean year for us in terms of launches. We had launched the Malibu and the CTS and the Lambda crossovers back in late '07 and so on.

But we have a big launch here ahead of us in 2009, the second half. We're going to be, you know, we're really optimistic that, as we get into the spring selling season we're going to launching LaCROSSE, Equinox, the Terrain, the new Camaro, the SRX, and the Traverse is just getting started. So this is a big year for us, and we're just beginning down that path.

So product sells in this business and, as Mark said, if we get some of this behind us, we've got a strong launch here. We think we could gain share.

Todd Lasso - Motor Trend

One quick one, if I could because I know you're going to be finishing up here, what month do you think you might see any increase in pickup truck sales due to stimulus package construction?

Mike DiGiovanni

It's probably not going to happen until the second half of the year strongly because just getting the mechanics of the implementation of that program in terms of building roads, buildings and other infrastructure I would say would take some time. The second half of the year.

Operator

And, Mr. McDonald, that was the last question. I will now turn the conference back to you.

John Murphy - BAS-ML

Thanks very much, Operator. We'll talk to everybody again on Friday, May 1 when we report April sales. Good afternoon.

Operator

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

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Source: General Motors Corporation March 2009 Global Sales Call Transcript
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