For the first time in more than 25 years, General Motors expects to marginally increase its US market share for a second straight year in 2002, boosted by aggressive incentives and new vehicles, Reuters reported.

“I do think we’ll show a second consecutive year of share gains. And if we do, that will be the first two years in a row that we’ve had share gains since 1976,” John Smith, who takes over as GM’s head of North American sales, service and marketing on January 1, told Reuters in an interview.

GM took over 46% of the US market in 1976, when large American cars ruled the road and Japanese cars were an afterthought but, since then, its share has steadily eroded due to the onslaught of foreign competition, quality problems, lacklustre design and failure to spot market trends, analysts told Reuters.

But, Reuters noted, over the last few years, GM’s quality has improved and its sport utility vehicles have brought back many buyers, as have its generous incentives.

According to Reuters, GM’s US market share, including Saab, is up slightly over the first 10 months of this year to 28.5% from 28.3% in 2001, when it posted a marginal advance over 2000. Smith told the news agency he expects GM to improve its market share from last year over the remainder of 2002.

Reuters said Ford has lost considerable market share this year, falling to about 21.5% including its Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo brands, from about 23.1% last year while Chrysler is flat with about 13.2% of the US market.

Reuters said GM set a “stretch” goal, meant to inspire its sales staff, for US market share of 29% this year, which officials acknowledge they’ll fail to reach, but Smith notes that GM has been able to lift its share despite reducing its Oldsmobile lineup and decreasing low-margin sales to car rental agencies.

Smith told Reuters said that while incentives are high “by any historical comparison,” the alternative would be to let sales drop sharply and suffer from lower profits and revenues.

He told Reuters that the launch next year of new mid-size cars — the Pontiac Grand Am and the Chevrolet Malibu — and increased production of the popular Chevrolet Impala should help GM grow its US market share again in 2003.

“Next year should be a good year for us,” Smith told Reuters. “Our ambitions are to grow share every year. We think we’re in a relatively good position to strive for that.”