For the first time, General Motors’ Latin America, Africa and Middle East (LAAM) operations have passed the one million annual vehicle sales mark.

The 2006 results for the three regions show 1,035,200 units sold, accounting for 11.4% of the automaker’s sales world-wide. Volume grew 17.4% compared with 2005 and market share hit a new peak of 17%.

Last year saw GM brands (almost 100% Chevrolet) take the lead in this group of countries for the ninth consecutive year, and record sales in nine of the 11 largest LAAM markets.

In Brazil, GM’s sales were a record 410,000 units but the automaker’s #3 rank in the automobile and light commercials segments remained unchanged.

Despite small falls in market share and the number of units exported, the local company made a profit for the first time in many years and appears likely to sustain that in the next few years.

However, if the Brazilian market keeps growing, it is unlikely that GM do Brasil will be able to keep up from 2008.

Director of sales & marketing, Marcos Munhoz, considers it very hard to convince his Detroit head office to provide additional investment to increase plant capacities.

Munhoz said: “We still have some flexibility regarding shifts and export-diverting to supply the local market. As of 2008, if sales keep this pace, a new investment in capacity would be necessary. We have just done it in the near-duplication of the Gravataí plant in Rio Grande do Sul state to 210,000 units a year. But it will be difficult to convince Detroit about a new increase of capital because, in the past, the market slumped and remained well short of forecasts.”

Fernando Calmon