Overseas sales help GM profits thrive

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Kai Ryssdal: General Motors surprised investors today. The carmaker turned in a $900 million profit, its third positive quarter in a row. No thanks to American consumers, though. GM lost another $39 million here at home. Our New York bureau chief Jill Barshay reports now on who's buying those GM cars.


Jill Barshay: American cars may not be selling at home, but foreigners are snapping them up. In Europe, GM upped its profits by 65 percent — the best it's done across the pond since 1996. GM also posted records in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

You won't see most of these cars in American showrooms. Michael Robinet at CSM Worldwide says GM customizes its cars for local tastes.

Michael Robinet: A Celta down in Brazil — a vehicle we don't see on the roads a lot in North America — it's what we call a B-segment vehicle in the business. It's a . . . it's very much a mini vehicle.

In China, GM switched from European designs to Korean ones.

Some Chinese like their cars American-style. Tim Dunne of JD Power and Associates says GM's big Buicks are popular with the new rich.

Tim Dunne: They like big, big things, big vehicles. Senior management-type people, company fleets, people who might be driven around.

But even with all these overseas sales, analysts don't think MoTown has gotten its groove back.

Bruce Clark covers GM for Moody's Investor Service. He says GM has to settle with its unions, cut costs and sell more cars at home.

Bruce Clark: It's going to be critical for them to continue to hold onto market share in North America, and to do that without relying on excessive incentives. And they've got to convince consumers to begin paying up.

He's not optimistic GM can switch gears. Moody's is keeping its GM rating at the low end of the junk market.

In New York, I'm Jill Barshay for Marketplace.

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