GM's 2013 global sales rise 4.5% for narrow lead over VW

DETROIT (Bloomberg) -- General Motors Co. announced global sales results that show a narrowing lead over Volkswagen Group in 2013 as GM's deliveries in China failed to outpace its ambitious German rival.

The U.S. automaker's sales rose 4.5 percent to 9.71 million vehicles last year, GM said in a statement. Fourth-quarter deliveries rose 5.2 percent to 2.46 million cars and trucks.

Volkswagen Group sales last year rose almost 5 percent to more than 9.7 million vehicles, including MAN and Scania heavy trucks, VW said last week. Excluding MAN and Scania, VW Group delivered 9.5 million vehicles in 2013, up 4.8 percent on the year before, VW said in a statement. VW did not give an exact figure for its 2013 deliveries.

GM, VW and Toyota Motor Corp. are in a tight race to be the sales leader around the world.

While Toyota hasn't yet released its figures for the October through December period, it led the race for the year through September with deliveries totaling 7.41 million vehicles, giving it a lead of about 160,000 over No. 2 GM. VW aims to become the world's best-selling automaker by 2018.

The gains by Toyota underscore how Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's policies that have weakened the yen are benefiting the nation's exporters. Toyota recaptured the sales lead from GM in 2012 as the company recovered from Asian natural disasters that disrupted its production during the previous year.

China lead

The tightest battle between GM and VW played out in China where the U.S. automaker lost its eight-year position as the top-selling foreign automaker to VW, which saw sales increase 16 percent to 3.27 million. Sales of GM and its joint-ventures in China, which unlike VW exclude Hong Kong deliveries, rose 11 percent to 3.16 million.

GM sales in the U.S., where it is the market leader, rose 7.3 percent to 2.6 million.

In Detroit this week, VW announced plans to spend more than $7 billion during the next five years in North America to redouble efforts to boost U.S. sales of its VW and Audi brands to 1 million vehicles by 2018 from less than 600,000 last year. Part of those plans include introducing a mid-size SUV designed for the region.

GM was helped by gains in the U.S. where it introduced 18 new or refreshed vehicles last year, transforming its product lineup into one of the industry's freshest from among the oldest.

GM's sales fell about 3 percent in Europe last year, GM said. GM has struggled since 1999 to end losses in the region that now exceed more than $18 billion.

The automaker, which has announced plans to close the first auto assembly plant in Germany since World War II and pull the Chevy brand out of Europe, aims to break even in the region by mid-decade and has narrowed its losses through the first three quarters of 2013.

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