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GM sees continued sales growth in Eastern Europe

General Motors Corp., the world's largest automaker, expects sales in Ukraine and Russia to lead the company's growth in Eastern Europe.

„Eastern Europe is driving quite a bit of what growth is available in the European marketplace,” Jonathan Browning, GM's European vice president for sales and marketing, told analysts at the Merrill Lynch Global Automotive Conference in Geneva today. GM sold 55% of its vehicles outside the US last year. The company expects to gain market share overseas more rapidly than in the US, where sales fell 8.7% in 2006. GM's European sales grew 7.6% in January while industrywide European sales rose 1.1% that month, the most recent period for which data are available. „We've seen, especially, the Ukraine and the Russian markets growing very strongly,” Browning said. „We see that continuing on into 2007.” He said sales in Russia grew to 130,000 in 2006 from 66,000 in 2004 and will probably exceed 200,000 this year. In Europe, GM is focusing on higher sales to „the most profitable fleet segments,” Browning said, even as the automaker reduces sales to rental car companies, which tend to have a lower margin. „It's certainly not the case that all fleet business is bad business,” he said. Shares of Detroit-based GM gained 24 cents to $30.86 at 10:25 a.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. They have gained 58% in the 12 months before today. (Bloomberg)