DETROIT –continues to make progress on restructuring from its 2009 bankruptcy, punctuated by a return later this week to Wall Street’s leading financial index, but it remains “miles away” from reaching its goals, Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson says.
“I feel good about the direction of our company,” Akerson tells journalists after the auto maker’s annual meeting of shareholders here, citing specifically GM’s $25 billion in earnings before taxes and interest since 2010.
“As far as we’ve come, we have many, many miles to go to achieve the goals we set out for ourselves,” he says.
Akerson declines to elaborate on those goals, saying it “would take two hours” to detail, but notes that achieving investment-grade status ranks as a key near-term target. The auto maker has yet to cross that hurdle, which would provide validation to Wall Street on the success of its restructuring, as well as reduce borrowing costs.
However, GM does rejoin the Standard & Poor’s 100 and 500 on Friday, two key financial market indices used by investors.
“It says that we’re (among) the companies viewed as leaders,” Akerson says. “It is recognition by the market that we’ve come a long ways.”
GM’s global sales last year grew 2.9% to 9.3 million units from 9.0 million in 2011, although its market share dipped to 11.5% from 11.9%. Worldwide revenue increased $2 billion to a total of $152.3 billion. Net income dwindled to $4.86 billion from $7.59 billion on special charges and losses in Europe.
GM’s U.S. sales so far this year are up 8.3% to 1.2 million units from 1.1 million year-ago against an industry uptick of 7.1%. However, the auto maker’s share of its most important market has been stuck between 17.9% and 18.1% since the close of 2012.
In the years prior to its bankruptcy GM controlled upwards of 26% of the U.S. market. Akerson says he thinks the auto maker will gain share in the U.S. this year.
The top executive also reiterates expectations for the company to reach break-even in Europe by mid-decade, which, combined with the U.S. Treasury’s 18% stake in the auto maker, has been a drag on its share price.
GM’s stock rejoined the New York Stock Exchange in 2010 at $33 per share. But it has dipped as low as $18.72 over the past 52 weeks. It closed Wednesday at $34.02 on the S&P news and an announcement by the Treasury of plans to divest an additional 30 million shares through an upcoming predefined offer.
The Treasury wants to sell its remaining 300 million shares of GM stock, an 18% holding in the auto maker, by early next year. The government gained its stake in GM through a $49.5 billion bankruptcy backing of the auto maker in 2009.
In addition, the United Auto Workers union will conduct an upcoming sale of 20 million shares its retiree benefit trust holds. The UAW also gained the shares as part of GM’s restructuring.
“The fact that the U.S. Treasury Dept. is selling its GM stock has been welcomed by other investors,” Akerson tells shareholders.
The auto maker could conduct a buyback of Treasury shares to speed the government’s exit, although that wouldn’t happen until that stake fell below 10%.
“We might be a factor in (the exit),” he says, adding a future dividend also will be examined but suggests it is unlikely in the near-term.
“Right now, we are taking our cash and pouring it into products and new facilities,” Akerson says.
In the U.S., GM expects to turn its product portfolio over from the industry’s oldest to its newest during the next 16 months. It has invested billions of dollars since 2009 preparing manufacturing facilities for the product offensive.
The auto maker also is fast-expanding its manufacturing footprint in China, where it boasts sales leadership with its joint ventures. GM will complete a refresh of its portfolio this year in the key market of Brazil, and it continues to push growth of its Chevrolet brand in Russia.
Looking ahead, material costs, complexity and quality are the company’s biggest challenges, Akerson says in his remarks to shareholders. “They’re all interconnected. They are all in our ability to control.
“The better job we do keeping our costs down, rooting out complexity and pushing our quality ever higher, the more value we will create” for investors and customers, Akerson adds.
Reaching a platform-consolidation plan set out after the auto maker emerged from bankruptcy would go a long way toward overcoming those challenges. GM wants to derive 96% of its forecasted production volume from 13 core global architectures and four regional architectures by 2018.
A GM spokesman tells WardsAuto the auto maker is “exactly where we want to be” on its platform consolidation goals.
Akerson also announces in his address the launch of a new 2-year, or 24,000-mile (39,000-km), free maintenance program on all ’14 Chevrolet, Buick, and GMC models retroactive to May. The program covers basic maintenance needs such as oil changes, tire rotations and vehicle inspections.
The program varies slightly by model, such as performance cars, and it builds on a similar program launched earlier this year on the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra large pickups. Cadillac will retain its more-robust 4-year, 50,000-mile (80,000-km) maintenance program.
“We know that customers who service their vehicles at our dealerships are much more likely to purchase another GM product down the road,” Akerson says.
Owners who regularly take their vehicles to dealers for service are twice as likely to buy another GM product, the auto maker says. Every percentage point of loyalty translates into $700 million of revenue, according to GM.
The company has made customer retention one of its pillars of restructuring, forming a business specifically targeting the issue. Last year, GM North America President Mark Reuss went so far as to join the field teams in an effort to speed the plan’s implementation.
Free maintenance programs typically accompany the purchase of luxury vehicles, but rarely are offered with volume-brand models.