GM Offers New Incentives to Spark Sales

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General Motors Corp. (GM), hurt by weaker U.S. sales this year and high inventories, will roll out a new consumer incentive program on Thursday that includes a $1,000 cash rebate toward vehicles that have been unsold for more than 120 days, dealers said on Tuesday.

The "March Madness" sale, which can be combined with other sales incentives, is GM's first national incentive program since the automaker named a new head of North American sales and marketing last week.

A GM spokeswoman declined to comment on the incentives. "No program is final until it's final. I have nothing to announce today," said GM spokeswoman Deborah Silverman.

One Michigan dealer, who described his January and February sales as "horrible," said: "We need something for momentum. I'm pretty optimistic that it will give us the momentum we need."

GM's U.S. sales so far this year have fallen more than 6 percent, and the automaker has scaled back production, as highlighted by last week's news that it would lay off 3,000 workers at a Michigan plant and cease production of the cars made there.

Through the first two months of this year, GM had scaled back on its profit-punishing incentives and national advertisements announcing new discount deals, analysts said. But lackluster U.S. sales and high inventories of unsold vehicles meant that GM had to announce another high-profile incentive program sooner or later, analysts and dealers said.

GM offered an average of $3,814 in cash rebates and cut-rate financing on every new vehicle it sold in February, according to industry tracking firm Autodata (search). That was more than any other automaker, but 9 percent less than GM's average incentives in February 2004, it said.

Last week, GM named Mark LaNeve (search), who had been instrumental in the resurrection of GM's Cadillac brand, as group vice president of North American sales and marketing. His predecessor, John Smith, was named to the new position of group vice president for global product planning.

Paul Ballew, GM's executive director of global market and industry analysis, said last week that GM's vehicle inventories grew in February, ahead of the usual "spring selling season," and the automaker hoped to cut those inventories heading into the second half of the year.