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August 1, 2013

ONLINE ONLY: Auto leases on the rise

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SOUTHFIELD, Mich. —

The rise in leasing activity extends beyond top mid-size car contenders. Leases were 20 percent of GM's U.S. sales during the second quarter, up 4.6 percentage points from the same period a year earlier, Chief Financial Officer Dan Ammann said last week during the company's quarterly earnings call.

GM said it outpaced the growth in leasing for the rest of the industry, which was up 2.5 percentage points to 24.3 percent of all sales. The Detroit-based company, which is preparing to roll out a wave of new models in this year's second half, probably will lead all automakers this month with a 20 percent sales gain, the average of nine estimates.

"As long as things are going in that direction, it can't ever get too high," David Westcott, a dealer selling GM's Buick and GMC brand vehicles in Burlington, North Carolina, said of the leasing rate. Westcott is chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association.

Ford is more cautious in its views on the trend of increased leasing activity. The Dearborn-based company's leasing business has been increasing as a share of its U.S. sales, although its mix is still below the industry average, CFO Bob Shanks said in a phone interview.

"If you go back though in the prior decade, there were periods where leasing was excessive," Shanks said last week. "I don't think we want to return to those days. We just want to be able to provide the appropriate level of leasing depending upon who's out there and interested in our products."

Automakers and lenders moved away from leasing during the financial crisis, with Chrysler's predecessor abandoning the market in 2008, as the credit markets seized up and residual values fell. Since GM and Chrysler's bankruptcies the following year, GM has acquired AmeriCredit and renamed it General Motors Financial, and Chrysler has formed an auto-financing venture with Banco Santander.

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