GM President Dismisses Claims About Soft Market

From Reuters

General Motors Corp. President Robert C. Stempel said the U.S. car and truck market is volatile but that he does not think vehicle sales have softened as some analysts have suggested.

In an interview at the National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention, Stempel said the auto maker is watching sales in the final 10 days of January and the first 10 days of February to determine where the market is headed.

U.S. auto makers sold 7.5 million autos in 1988, and finished the year with a selling rate of 10.3 million in the final 10 days of December. But auto sales in the first 20 days of January have fallen to a dismal 5.9 million selling rate. Analysts have said the market, which had slowed in the final quarter of the year from a strong pace in the first three quarters, appears to have softened.

No Word on Dividend


“I’d just as soon forget the first 10 and 20 (days) in January,” said Stempel. “In this business, we sometimes run by 10-day cycles but we plan by a lot different basis.”

He said he did not think the January performance is any indication of the market’s status.

On another subject, Stempel refused to speculate whether GM’s board of directors will raise the auto maker’s dividend. Earlier this month, Ford Motor Co.'s board increased its pay-out and there has been speculation that GM will follow suit. GM has been paying a $5 dividend since 1984.

The GM president’s comments followed a news conference at which GM announced the first 26 dealers who will sell the auto maker’s much-publicized Saturn small car. Each of the dealers has put up an estimated $10 million to $15 million in orders to have a Saturn franchise.

The Saturn car is scheduled to go on sale in 1990 as a 1991 model. Donald Hudler, Saturn vice president of sales, said the automobile will be available in three versions--two four-door models and a two-door version. The auto is expected to compete with cars such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Corolla when it makes its long-awaited debut.

Hudler said GM received 2,500 applications from dealers interested in winning a Saturn franchise.

Saturn, which will be built at a new GM plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., was the subject of a massive publicity effort in 1985 over the selection of a production site.

GM heard presentations from 1,100 mayors, governors and local officials all seeking the plant, which eventually will employ 3,000 workers.