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UPDATE 1-GM sees industry global auto sales up 4 pct in '08

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DETROIT, April 23 (Reuters) - General Motors Corp's GM.N chief sales analyst said on Wednesday the U.S. automaker expects the automotive industry's global sales to rise about 4 percent this year due to strong demand in emerging markets.

The North American market has been “challenging” but GM saw strong sales in its other regions, Mike DiGiovanni told analysts and reporters. He sees minimal contagion between the U.S. economic problems and demand in the emerging markets.

“The global market for cars and trucks remains strong and we anticipate global growth at 4 percent in 2008. We expect about 2.8 million more vehicles to be sold around the world in 2008 than last year,” he said on a conference call.

DiGiovanni said the stimulus package the U.S. Congress passed will not be felt until May, while there is a six-month lag for the effects of interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve, leading him to believe things will improve in the back half of the year in the United States.

“What we’re wondering and asking ourselves is perhaps the second quarter will be weaker than the first quarter,” he said. “That said, we still believe ... the fundamentals are in place for a second-half recovery.”

DiGiovanni said the big caveat in GM’s outlook is the price of gasoline, citing oil prices hitting $119 a barrel on Tuesday.

“This is clearly a headwind that we didn’t anticipate would be to this level, so that’s factored into our thinking now too ... to the fact that we think the second-quarter may be weaker than the first quarter,” he said.

“The U.S. market is going through a difficult time right now,” he added later.

When asked by an analyst whether sales in April had weakened from March, DiGiovanni said “maybe a bit” but then added that it was too early to know for sure. He later said the April results were coming in similar to March.

He added that he sees downward pressure on vehicle transaction prices in the United States and Europe. (Reporting by Ben Klayman, editing by Mark Porter and Dave Zimmerman)

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