General Motors: Who needs America?

The automaker is selling more cars in China than in the U.S. -- and is just getting started in India

By Andrew Leonard
Published January 7, 2010 10:42PM (EST)

GM's newish CEO, Ed Whitacre, is promising that the automaker will return to profitability in 2010. That's bold talk for a company that recorded a 30 percent sales drop in 2009 measured against 2008, is shuttering four brands, needed vast infusions of taxpayer money to stay afloat, and is watching its chief domestic competitor, Ford, make significant market share inroads.

But GM isn't quite as hapless as it seems. Here are a couple of interesting factoids:

In November 2009, GM sold 150,676 vehicles in the U.S., down 1.7 percent from a year earlier. That same month, GM sold 177,339 vehicles in China, more than twice as many as it sold the previous year. Overall, reports the Wall Street Journal, "for the January-November period, GM's sales in China rose 64 percent to 1.64 million units from a year earlier. In the U.S., its sales fell 31.8 percent to 1.86 million units during the period."

The numbers aren't as big in India, but the trend-line seems headed in the same direction. General Motors sold 70,000 vehicles in India in 2009, is expecting to sell 100,000 in 2010, and just this week debuted a nifty new, high-mileage small car, the Chevrolet Beat.

So maybe GM doesn't even need to count on an American economic recovery to return to profitability. Then again, sales in China and India of cars built in China and India do not do much for American jobs -- not even at the high end of design and engineering. The Chevrolet Beat, originally aimed at Asian and Latin American markets but now intended to be sold all over the world, was designed in South Korea by GM Daewoo.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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