Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson says a weaker year-over-year first-quarter profit belies evidence the restructured auto maker stands taller today in the global market than it has in decades.
“We are much more of a formidable competitor now than we have been in more than a generation,” Akerson says of GM, which through its 2009 bankruptcy shed onerous structural and legacy costs that made past restructuring attempts difficult.
“We are very much on plan financially as well, despite the competitive landscape, the volatility we have seen in several currency markets and Europe’s ongoing challenges,” he says in a conference call today to discuss the auto maker’s $865 million quarterly profit.
Akerson says a number of Q1 developments fuel his optimism.
They include a rise in global market share for the Detroit auto maker to 11.4% from 11.2% year-ago; the acquisition of an international captive finance unit to help improve sales abroad; record vehicle deliveries in China, including a second-best month ever in March, plus sales momentum in the U.K. and Brazil.
In North America, Akerson says the auto maker will launch key new products this year such as the redesigned Cadillac CTS, Buick LaCrosse and Regal, new large pickups in 2014 and the addition of an industry-first type of 4G LTE wireless connectivity to nearly every model sold.
“The message is clear,” he says. “We’re a very healthy company that is getting stronger each quarter, and in the product arena we’re playing offense and competing to win.”
GM’s quarterly profit resulted in $0.58 a share, compared with $0.60 on earnings of $1.0 billion year-ago.
GM’s earnings through the first three months of 2013 include foreign-currency devaluation, reducing income by $200 million. Without the one-time item, shareholders would take $0.67 a share in the quarter, topping Wall Street estimates.
The auto maker’s Q1 earnings trailed the $1.6 billion profit reported last week by cross-town rivalbut surpassed the $166 million posted by .
GM’s quarterly revenue slipped 2.3% to $36.9 billion from $37.8 billion year-ago, although the auto maker’s global vehicle sales rose 3.6% to 2.36 million units from 2.28 million.
Strong sales increases for GM’s North American unit and its International Operations, including a record 816,373 vehicles in China, offset decreases in quarterly deliveries for its European and South American groups.
GMNA contributed earnings before interest and taxes of $1.4 billion, compared with $1.6 billion year-ago, a decline due mostly to a combination of higher incentives meant to clear out inventories of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra ahead of redesigned models coming in a few weeks and assembly-plant downtime to retool for the trucks.
GMIO saw a slight hiccup, with profit contribution falling to $495 million from $521 million. Gains in the booming China market failed to offset a weaker quarterly performance in India. The auto maker continues to express bullishness over China, where it will increase its manufacturing capacity 20% this year.
GME saw its losses narrow in the quarter to $175 million from $294 million in like-2012 on restructuring progress.
GM Chief Financial Officer Dan Ammann, who also serves on the board of the auto maker’s Adam Opel subsidiary in Europe, says the turnaround there continues to keep a lid on costs but remains subject to the region’s still-dreary economic climate.
GM hopes its operations in Europe, underpinned by a $4 billion investment in Opel/Vauxhall, will yield break-even results by 2015.
“We’re on track,” Ammann says. “But this is the first quarter into the year, and there are huge uncertainties in relation to the European macro-economic environment and how that is going to unfold.”
GMSA broke even after earning $200 million in the period last year as the unit faced unfavorable currency exchange rates.
GM Financial, the auto maker’s captive finance unit, saw its EBIT shrink to $180 million from $181 million.
GM closed Q1 with $35.3 billion in liquidity, compared with $36.8 billion in like-2012.
The auto maker reveals in the quarterly report what it sees as a pivotal change in how it will record sales, which should make accounting for profits and losses clearer.
Previously, the region producing a vehicle would record the sale and its financial impact. Now, those results will belong to where the vehicle was sold.
For example, the sale and profit of the Chevrolet Tahoe large SUV built in the U.S and sold in the Middle East will be recorded by GM’s Middle East unit.
Looking back just “a couple of years,” Akerson says GM could not accurately determine the profitability of some products. “That may sound a bit strange, but we did not have the clarity and, therefore, the accountability that we have now. In terms of managing the company, this is a huge step forward.”
Akerson also considers the rollout of 4G LTE wireless technology to GM cars and trucks in North America next year a game-changer. Instead of letting telecommunications providers book the entire financial windfall when a driver connects his smartphone into a vehicle, GM will make the car or truck the hotspot and charge those telecommunications firms for access.
Having 4G LTE means GM vehicles will have a “big pipe,” (through which) to feed information and entertainment to passengers.
“You look at what we can do with a 4G pipe into a car…you can change the business model almost entirely,” says Akerson, a former telecommunications executive. “You may be able to have a real revenue-generating opportunity.”