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Higher vehicle prices double profits for GM; Buyer incentives fall 20% on cars, trucks

After years of big discounts, GM is charging customers more for its cars and trucks, which is helping the bottom line.

General Motors Co. said Thursday its second-quarter profit nearly doubled. A big reason was higher prices for its vehicles, which boosted its profits in every region of the world.

The company's net income totaled $2.5 billion, or $1.54 per share, compared with $1.3 billion, or 85 cents per share, in the same quarter a year earlier. It was GM's third straight quarterly profit since its initial public stock offering in November and its sixth straight overall.

The results were stronger than those of Ford and Chrysler, which reported last week. Chrysler posted a loss on a big repayment of government debt. Ford's earnings took a hit as it expanded in Asia, a region where GM is dominant.

GM Chief Financial Officer Dan Ammann said the company gained $1 billion from higher prices for its cars and trucks. More than half of that came from North America.

But he also warned that the company's performance for the rest of the year probably won't be as strong.

In the second quarter, though, GM ran its business well. It pulled back on rebates and other deals when a severe earthquake in Japan left rivals such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. short of cars to export. When demand for small cars rose in the spring because of high gas prices, GM was able to match it with a new Chevrolet Cruze while Toyota and Honda sat on the sidelines. GM's incentive spending per vehicle fell 20 percent to $3,022 in June, according to car pricing site TrueCar.com

Popular models like the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain, which get 32 mpg on the highway, also didn't need rebates to sell well because of high pump prices. The company also raised prices to compensate for the higher costs of such raw materials as steel.

But higher car prices may not hold in the second half of the year, when Japanese inventories are restocked and competition heats up. GM has vowed not to return to its old ways of doing business, when it overproduced vehicles just to keep its factories open and then offered huge discounts to sell them off.

Second-quarter revenue rose 19 percent to $39.4 billion, while unit sales rose 7 percent. Although sales softened somewhat in the U.S. and Europe because of buyers' worries about the economy, GM gained market share in every region outside South America.

It was the first time since GM emerged from bankruptcy protection two years ago that all of its regions were profitable. Europe, which is undergoing a restructuring, posted a profit of $100 million, versus a loss a year earlier. In North America, the source of the bulk of GM's profits, the company earned $2.2 billion, up from $1.6 billion.

GM won more customers in the U.S. because of the Cruze, which was the best-selling car in the nation in June.

The Cruze also sold well in China, where Chevrolet's June sales rose 34 percent.

"GM's investments in fuel economy, design and quality are paying off around the world," Dan Akerson, GM chairman and CEO, said in a statement.

But GM's shares have been trading far below the initial public offering price of $33 from November. Investors are concerned about the economy and the health of a company that is just two years out of bankruptcy protection. GM reported its biggest profit in more than a decade in the first quarter, but its stock fell as investors noted that nearly half the profit was from the sale of GM's stake in an auto parts company.

Although GM made $5.7 billion in the first half of the year, Ammann said the company's second half performance will probably not be as robust, since sales usually drop in the fall and the economy is shaky.

In Thursday's market sell-off, GM's stock closed at $25.99, down $1.18 or 4.34 percent.

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