Few companies maintain the level of anti-sentiment as General Motors (NYSE:GM) has since the recession and ensuing bailout. As many times as I hear, "I'll never buy a GM vehicle again," or "Government Motors is going to fail again," you'd think it would have an effect on the company's sales. Maybe it does, but you sure can't tell by its recent sales figures. Ford (NYSE:F) and GM both posted very solid second-quarter earnings, and started the third quarter with strong July results. Here's a look at GM's results.

General Motors Headquarters in Detroit. Photo Credit: General Motors Company.

July 2013
GM's total sales were up 16%, and July was a very balanced month with all four brands increasing by double digits. The total number of units sold came in at 234,071, which were favorable to cross-town rival Ford by about 40,000 vehicles.

"For GM, July was the most well-balanced month of the year from a retail sales standpoint: trucks were hot, but so were small cars and family vehicles," said Kurt McNeil, vice president, U.S. sales operations, in a press release. "Our experience shows that the difference between good sales and great sales in a slow-growth economy is how many new products you have to offer, and we are starting to hit our sweet spot."

Quick hits

  • Cadillac is having a phenomenal year, and car sales were up 34%
  • Full-size pickup sales were up an incredible 44%
  • Impala sales jumped up 38% with the redesigned model
  • GM and Chevy car sales were up 24% and 31%, respectively
  • GMC Terrain, Chevy Equinox and Cruze all set record July sales figures
  • Retail sales increased by 23% in July, while fleet sales declined 6%

There's a lot of very positive news in those quick-hit highlights, especially the increase in retail sales and decline in fleet sales. Fleet sales aren't all bad, especially when managed correctly; however, fleet sales represent 25.5% of GM's sales for the year -- investors were pleased to see that figure under 20% for July.

Looking at competitors, GM fared well with its 16% sales increase compared to rivals Honda, Toyota, and Ford, which posted increases of 21%, 17%, and 11%, respectively. Toyota actually topped Ford in sales for the first time in three years -- if only by a handful of units.

GM is beginning to tackle one of their biggest problems -- refreshing the industry's oldest vehicle lineup. If July is any indicator, the refresh is going to have a very positive effect, as 90% of the lineup is refreshed, replaced, or redesigned by 2016.

"The difference between good sales and great sales in a slow-growth economy is how many new products you have to offer, and we are starting to hit our sweet spot," Kurt McNeil, head of U.S. sales operations said, according to Automotive News.

Bottom line
There are some very encouraging signs for GM investors in its second quarter and July sales reports. Those include Cadillac having its most improved year since 1976, as well as redesigned vehicles like the 2014 Impala bouncing back very well in sales. Let's not forget that the newly designed Silverado and Sierra full-size pickups, which bring in a majority of GM's profit in North America, are starting to sell extremely well.

All the good stuff aside, GM still has a lot of work to do on its bottom line. It needs to continue consolidating platforms, create economies of scale, and work to improve its operating margin. GM's got a lot to work with from its top-line sales and future growth from new vehicles, but if GM wants to see its share price increase, it will be from fixing its bottom line going forward -- and I think it can.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.