Though General Motors' European total year to date volume was down 1.9% to 1,620,619 vehicles, sales in eastern European rose 43% to 318,245 units compared to 23% industry growth in the same January to September 2008 period, the automaker said on Thursday (9 October).

"Economic challenges heavily influence[d] business in western Europe", with GM volume down 10.7% in the region, GM said.

Record sales of Chevrolet-branded vehicles (largely sourced from GM Daewoo in Korea) boosted the brand 17% to 385,653 vehicles in the first three quarter, for market share of 2.2% in Europe.

Western Europe volume slipped to 1,148,535 vehicles (off 10.7%) and 9.2% share.

"We are facing an unprecedented set of economic challenges due to the global economic crisis," said GM Europe president Carl-Peter Forster.

"The credit crisis and inflation from surging oil and commodities prices have seriously hurt consumer confidence. We're doing everything that we can to manage this challenging period with a host of new products... and by managing our production and costs as tightly as possible.

"But we also need help from political leaders to turn the situation around. At the EU level, and within political leadership of individual countries, action must be taken to stimulate the economy, relieve the credit crunch, and restore consumer confidence," added Forster.

Sales chief Brent Dewar said: "We're expanding the portfolio, differentiating the brands and leveraging our breadth of offerings to appeal to diverse customer groups and meet market requirements."

GM said its ability to grow in the world's key emerging markets would be "fundamental for the success of the company for the long term".

"Last year, nearly 40% of total industry sales came from emerging markets. By 2012, 45% of total industry sales are expected to come from emerging markets."

The automaker said 75% of all new vehicles are still delivered in western Europe but, by 2011, more than a third of European deliveries would be made in central and eastern Europe.

"The lion's share of this rising eastern volume will come from Russia where more than 2.7m new cars were sold last year. But other markets in the region are also playing an important role," GM said.

It has nearly doubled industry growth in Russia year-to-date, with sales up 44% to 256,765 vehicles (compared with 23% industry growth). GM is also growing fast in markets such as Ukraine (26% so far in 2008), Turkey (17%) and Poland (12%).

"Despite some softening in Russia and other eastern European markets last month, we foresee sustained economic development continuing to lift the standard of living and the demand for mobility throughout eastern Europe," Forster said.

"GM is benefiting from this development by offering an unmatched choice of five differentiated international brands and by building up a local distribution network and local production capacity very quickly.

"The trends we are seeing in sales volume and buying power ensure that eastern Europe, especially Russia, constitute enormous opportunities for GM in the long term. Despite today's challenging and competitive automotive economy in Europe, GME will concentrate on fostering our advantage in Russia and the other countries in the region", added Forster.

"Chevrolet is playing a very important role as our value brand. We have the right cars for the customers in the growth markets in central and eastern Europe and we are also proving to be very competitive in the entry segments in western Europe," said Dewar.

Opel/Vauxhall Europe sales in January-September were off 6% year on year to 1,174,534 vehicles.

GM said Opel was facing the same challenges as competitors in western Europe with sales down 10.7% but nearly tripled the industry growth in eastern Europe and was double in central Europe.

Russia sales rose 73.3% year on year to 78,051 vehicles and there was growth in important markets like Poland (up 12.2%) and Turkey (up 13.3%).

The company is about to launch a wide, fully redesigned D-segment Insignia range, replacing the long-running Vectra nameplate, with the hatchback, sedan and wagon versions competing with the likes of Ford's Mondeo, Renault's Laguna and Toyota's Avensis.

"We strongly believe the Insignia will help to further enhance Opel's brand image", said Dewar.

Cadillac sales in the first nine months grew 3.1% to 3,746 units as new models arrived (including some in RHD for the UK and Ireland) while Hummer volume rose 9.5% to 1,781 units (RHD versions made in South Africa went on sale this year).