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GM CEO Sees U.S. Auto Market Flattening, But Still Room for Growth

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General Motors Co Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra said she expected the U.S. auto market to flatten out this year, although growth is possible because of the strong economy and falling gasoline prices.

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Barra said on Thursday that the No. 1 U.S. automaker expected industry sales in the world's second-largest auto market to finish at 16.5 million to 17 million vehicles, indicating flat to 3 percent growth. U.S. industry sales rose about 6 percent last year to 16.5 million vehicles.

Barra said there was still room for growth because of the strong labor market, recovery in home prices and the recent drop in fuel prices.

Industry analysts have raised concerns about U.S. auto demand, saying a slowing market could lead to lower profits as manufacturers ratchet up incentives to ensure strong sales. The United States' importance has increased as demand has weakened in China, the world's largest auto market, and slumped in other key European, Asian and South American countries.

Coming out of the recession, U.S. industry sales grew from than 10 percent a year from 2010 through 2012 and about 8 percent in 2013. The industry last reached 17 million in annual sales in 2001.

Earlier this week, Toyota Motor Corp offered what it called a conservative 2015 U.S. sales forecast of 16.7 million vehicles. Ford Motor Co said it expected a range of 16.8 million to 17.5 million, including medium and heavy trucks, which typically account for 300,000 vehicles a year. (Reporting by Joe White and Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)