General Motors Co.'s popular new models are helping the automaker gain U.S. market share regardless of Toyota's safety problems, GM's vice chairman, Bob Lutz, said on Friday.
The No. 1 U.S. automaker, which emerged from a government-funded bankruptcy in July, expects its U.S. market share this year to be "definitely higher" than the 20 percent it achieved in 2009, Lutz told Reuters in an interview.
"If the competitor's weakness at some point results in lower sales for them and better sales for everybody else, that's something that obviously we'll accept," he said.
"But as far as we are concerned, it is not a factor. We're not planning on that. We were going to gain share anyway."
GM's U.S. sales jumped 14 percent in January from a year ago and its market share rose to 21 percent, while Toyota's sales fell 16 percent to the lowest level in more than a decade.
Toyota, reeling from massive safety recalls that have damaged its once-sterling reputation for quality, saw its market share fall to 14.1 percent from 17 percent in 2009.
"If it can be said with one of our competitors that the positive halo is gone, or fading, in our case, the negativism is fading," Lutz said
GM is also considering adding production capacity for hot-selling models like the Chevrolet Equinox, Cadillac SRX and Buick LaCrosse, Lutz said.
"We are now in a situation where our market share is constrained not by demand but by our ability to produce, a situation we have not been in quite a long time," he said.
Toyota, which has recalled more than 8 million vehicles globally for unintended acceleration problems, is also recalling the latest version of its Prius hybrid.
The Prius recall is to fix a software glitch that delays braking on the model in certain road conditions. Ford Motor Co. is also fixing up to 17,600 hybrids due to a similar problem.
Lutz said he does not believe the braking difficulties on the Toyota and Ford hybrids were an industry issue, adding GM hybrids have not encountered such problems.
Lutz, who turned 78 on Friday, said he is "perfectly happy" with his role as an adviser to the company's new management team led by Chairman and Chief Executive Ed Whitacre.
Whitacre, who took over from Fritz Henderson as CEO in December, moved quickly to install a new team of executives, including Chris Liddell, who joined GM as chief financial officer after serving in the same role at Microsoft Corp.
"The whole management team is new, so I spend a lot of time advising them," Lutz said.
Lutz, who championed the development of the handmade sports car Dodge Viper in the 1990s to help revitalize Chrysler's formerly stodgy image, is counting on the Chevy Volt electric car to change GM's image as a maker of gas-guzzling vehicles.
U.S. consumers used to say "only Toyota knows how to do environmentally friendly cars," Lutz said. "The Volt was one way to change perceptions about Chevrolet and in a larger sense, GM by leapfrogging the then-viewed technology leader, which was Toyota."
GM plans to launch its Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid at the end of 2010.
Lutz said GM expected to sell between 8,000 and 10,000 Volts next year, with the output increasing to 50,000-60,000 units per year in the long term.
GM has not yet set a price tag for the Volt. Lutz said the range given in the past of near $40,000 before a federal tax credit of $7,500 is a good working figure.
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