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GM Global Sales Fall 15% Amid Weak Economy

General Motors posted Wednesday a 22 percent global sales drop from a year earlier for the first six months of 2009 amid the economic slowdown and the automaker's slide into bankruptcy.

Still, GM global sales improved in the second quarter compared with the first quarter and the automaker's chief sales analyst said the U.S. economy has been showing increasing signs of stability and the global recession is approaching an end.

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The automaker expects a modest recovery in the U.S. auto market into 2010. U.S. auto industry sales have been running at the worst levels in nearly three decades through the first half of the year.

GM said its global first-half sales, which include brands the automaker is trimming from its lineup, fell 21.8 percent to 3.55 million vehicles. The automaker's sales in the second quarter fell 15.4 percent to 1.94 million vehicles.

The automaker said second-quarter sales reflected continuing economic pressures and production cuts in the United States. It estimated a 12 percent second-quarter global market share, down 0.3 percentage point from a year earlier.

Sales in North America fell 39.5 percent in the first half of the year. GM Europe fell 24.4 percent and GM Latin America, Africa and the Middle East fell 18.3 percent. The Asia-Pacific region posted 21.5 percent sales growth in the first half of the year for GM with a strong performance in China, GM said.

GM emerged from bankruptcy protection on July 10, concluding a 40-day stay in Chapter 11 with a sale of its key operations to a new company majority-owned by the U.S. Treasury and pledging to win back American consumers and taxpayers.

The long run up to bankruptcy and through court protection no doubt had an impact on sales, but not as deeply as had been feared, GM officials said.

'One Hand Tied Behind Your Back'

"It's like playing with one hand tied behind your back the last nine or 10 months," GM sales analyst Mike DiGiovanni said. "It could have been a lot more difficult situation than it turned out."

GM lost its spot as the world's largest automaker to Toyota Motor last year and is expected to shrink more when it sheds the Hummer, Saab, Saturn and Pontiac brands.

Collectively, those four brands accounted for about 208,000 in vehicle sales through the first half of the year. A GM executive said in a conference call with analysts and reporters that efforts to sell Hummer and Saab were on track.

One potential support for the U.S. auto market has been the adoption of a government program providing incentives to turn in less fuel efficient vehicles and buy new vehicles, commonly referred to as "cash for clunkers."

GM said U.S. auto industry sales had been soft in the early part of July as customers wait for the program to begin July 24, but sales could pick up significantly toward the end of the month.

The U.S. auto market could post sales of 10 million to 10.5 million units on an annualized basis in July if the scrappage program incentives spur demand, GM said. That would be the strongest sales month of 2009 on an annualized basis.

The world's automakers sold about 30.6 million vehicles in the first half of 2009, down about 17 percent from a year earlier, GM said.