General Motors Co. confirms a target price for its stock today of $26 to $29 per share, setting the stage for a rich, but unlikely profitable, initial public offering.

GM also reveals third-quarter earnings of between $1.9 billion and $2.1 billion, all but ensuring the reorganized auto maker its first annual profit since 2004.

Setting price expectations for the IPO shares simultaneously kicks off GM’s road show, where teams of executives will visit investor groups around the world and pitch the recently bankrupt auto maker as a wise investment.

The executives, including CEO Dan Akerson and Vice Chairmen Chris Liddell and Steve Girsky, will point to GM’s money-making potential based on its new balance sheet, cleaned of billions of dollars in debt, as well as the addition of a more competitive labor agreement, a leaner manufacturing footprint, new leadership and expectations behind current and future products.

GM emerged from Chapter 11 protection some 15 months ago, after just 39 days, on the strength of about $50 billion in taxpayer support. It remains unclear how far the U.S. Treasury Dept. will draw down its 61% stake, although various reports estimate taxpayers will walk away with a minority stake of around 43% and an initial profit seems unlikely.

A health-care trust of the United Auto Workers union and the governments of Ontario and Canada own stakes of 17.5% and 11.7%, respectively, and are expected to reduce their ownership nominally.

GM says today in its updated registration statement with regulators it plans to offer 365 million shares, which would amount to a total offering of up to $10.6 billion. If successful, it would make GM’s IPO among the top five in U.S. history.

It also would put GM’s market capitalization in the neighborhood of $50 billion before an anticipated stock split dilutes shares to the $26-$29 range.

Ford Motor Co. carries a market cap today of $49.15 billion, and in the last three months its shares have traded in a range between $13.16 and $14.23.

“The purpose of the split is to make the stock more accessible to the retail investor, to make them more liquid,” says Matt Therian, a research analyst at Greenwich, CT-based Renaissance Capital, an IPO expert.

A final price for GM’s stock will be determined closer to the IPO, reportedly scheduled for Nov. 18.

Therian tells Ward’s 40% of this year’s issuances have come at the low end of GM’s price range. “The buyer has been in the driver’s seat this year,” he says.

GM will not sell all of its stock, saving additional portions in anticipation of richer, follow-up offerings.

The auto maker’s IPO would return GM stock to the New York Stock Exchange, where it traded for 92 years before the bankruptcy. Shares also will trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

The preliminary third-quarter results, which reveal estimated revenue of $34 billion, improve on earnings of $1.3 billion in the second quarter and $865 million in the year’s first three months.

“We are extremely pleased with the level of progress the company is making,” says Chris Liddell, vice chairman and chief financial officer at GM. “We will deliver a solid and profitable first year post-bankruptcy, and we are continuing to improve our balance sheet and most importantly, the quality of our vehicles.”

So far this year, GM says it has earned between $4.0 billion and $4.2 billion on revenue of $99 billion. The auto maker also says it expects a strong fourth quarter, although a different production mix and expenses related to new vehicle launches and engineering for future vehicles will affect those results.

GM will provide a detailed report of its third-quarter financials Nov. 10.

jamend@wardsauto.com