GM’s Market Share on the Brink

At 20%, the General becomes the ghost of the ghost of its former self

By Blake Muntzinger


General Motors could be making history, but it is not the sort they – or any company – would boast about. According to the Wall Street Journal, GM’s market share could slide under the 20% mark for the first time, a far cry from its sales 10 years ago when it clung onto 29% of the market.

Fuel prices hovering around $4 a gallon, a faltering housing market and economy, and Detroit’s reliance on sales of SUVs and pickup trucks – a segment plagued with falling sales over the last few years, and a massive drop in the last few months – are cited as factors for the sales downturn. GM recently opted to shift some of its production from pickups to cars to keep up with the market.

With news of falling sales, it does put into question where the sales floor is. GM received rave reviews for many of its latest models. GM cleaned up in 2007 with Saturn’s Aura and the Chevy Silverado winning the North American Car (and Truck) of the Year, respectively. Motor Trend gave Cadillac CTS the 2008 Car of the Year; Chevrolet’s Malibu was awarded the 2008 North American Car of the Year. Accolades and critical acclaim should translate into more sales, and they do in the case of the Buick Enclave and Cadillac CTS, but not so much with the Aura, whose total sales is just over 101,000 vehicles since its launch in 2006, or its full-size SUVs, which suffered double-digit sales losses in April.

Unfortunately, GM is fighting the uphill battle against the quality juggernauts Honda and Toyota. The initial quality tide appears to have turned on some models and in the process of doing so on others. But consumers’ perceptions on reliability, while increasing, are still below those of the import brands. Of those marques, Toyota packs the most lethal punch; worldwide sales arguably surpassed GM in 2007, and its US market share in April was 17.4%.

It’s true that in the 1990s, GM focused on SUVs and trucks that guzzled fuel like college students drinking beer on a Friday night. But, it produces fuel efficient models too. According to the EPA, however, none of them reach 40 mpg on the highway. Chevrolet’s Cobalt rates the highest with highway mileage of up to 36 mpg, besting the competition from the Mazda3 to the Nissan Versa. Drivers must know how to drive a manual transmission to take advantage of it.

GM’s hybrids currently on the market all have fuel-burning counterparts, but none are selling at record paces. The Volt, GM’s poster child of green-ness, will reportedly be shown in all its production glory at the Mondial de l’Automobile in Paris this fall. These latest sales developments from domestic and foreign brands alike show the market is shifting quickly, and while GM has plug-in hybrids and hydrogen-powered vehicles in development, the market shift seems too fast and GM too slow. Those vehicles cannot get to consumers soon enough.

GM’s May sales results will be released tomorrow, but even if sales are high enough for market share to remain above 20%, odds are that they won’t look pretty.

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Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at

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  1. I hate to say it, but GM almost deserves to die considering how long it took them to get a clue. Three decades (70s,80s,90s) of stumbling around and churning out junk.

  2. They went below 20% for May and the beating is gonna be even more savage in June. And the beat-down is happening because trucks and S.U.V.s are persona non grata for consumers now, and will continue to be for a long time, maybe 4ever.

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