General Motors reported earnings today that appeared non-eventful on the surface. Upon further inspection there are some underlying concerns, including a glaring one-time event that stands out. That is an adjustment to earnings with a tax benefit (as opposed to paying taxes) of $35 billion for a "deferred tax valuation release." This was coupled with a goodwill impairment charge of about $27 billion, which allows GM to reduce the previously unusually high goodwill assets that were recorded on its balance sheet.
Perhaps General Motors should have put more focus on competing in the largest segment of the auto market instead of focusing on being the market leader in the least popular, plug-in, electric vehicle (EV) field. A Detroit Free Press article reported that GM had to slash Chevy Malibu prices by hundreds of dollars to try and catch up with vehicles like the Toyota Camry, which is currently eating the Malibu's lunch.
According to Toyota Vice Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada, "Because of its shortcomings - driving range, cost and recharging time - the electric vehicle is not a viable replacement for most conventional cars; we need something entirely new." Uchiyamada is considered the "father of the Prius."
An article by Reuter's exposes the limitations of EVs and focuses on Toyota's, along with Nissan's, change in strategy, which is now moving away from EVs. Even the most ideological and extreme green energy proponents and backers of the Chevy Volt will have to open their eyes to the sad truth uncovered by the latest report.
January's dismal numbers for Chevy Volt sales may give a clue as to how successful (or not) President Obama will be in reaching his goal of having a million electric vehicles (EVs) on American roads within the next few years, a goal that is increasingly becoming unlikely. It also gives us a glimpse into a bizarre strategy General Motors has had by focusing so strongly on plug-in cars while they lose market share elsewhere. The numbers are in, and GM can proudly say that they are the market leader in an insignificant field with a paltry 1,140 Volts sold in January. The best selling passenger car on the road, the Toyota Camry, sold 31,897 during the month, giving an indication of how illogical GM's misguided focus has been.
A watchdog for the government's bailout program, the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP), has hit the US Treasury Department with a hard combo of critique regarding some of the Administration's actions since pumping billions of taxpayer dollars into bailed-out companies like General Motors and Ally Financial (formerly known as GMAC). SIGTARP issued a report lambasting Treasury for allowing excessive pay for executives at GM, Ally Financial and AIG and followed that with statements that scrutinized Treasury's continued refusal to exit its stake in Ally Financial, which is currently 74% owned by the government.
There are a couple of little-noticed news stories on General Motors that belie the success narrative that portrays GM as a robust and growing corporation that is rewarding its workers around the globe. Both stories revolve around GM's South American operations, one involving injured Colombian GM workers who allegedly lost their jobs after being hurt at work and who are now on hunger strikes; the other centers on a strike by Brazilian GM workers who are protesting job cuts there.
I recently came across a report written by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) which estimated the cost to taxpayers for "federal policies to promote (aka subsidize) the manufacture and purchase of electric vehicles (EVs)." The piece also predicts the short-term benefits of the subsidies and includes the effects of rising federal requirements for fuel economy (known as CAFE) standards. The outlook is that federal subsidies will cost taxpayers $7.5 billion over the next few years for little or no benefit (even when including the impact of CAFE) to total gas consumption or emissions.
General Motors finished 2012 with a 17.9% market share in the US and is expected to repeat the performance in 2013 according to a Bloomberg report. The number is at the lowest point it has been since 1924. So what is behind the dismal numbers at GM that sees the company performing at 88 year lows?
The final tally is in for 2012 Chevy Volt sales. The good news (which is what most headlines will trumpet) is that sales for General Motors' flagship green vehicle tripled from 2011's paltry 7,671 to a slightly less paltry 23,461 in 2012. The bad news is that the number is almost half of GM's sales goal of 45,000 in 2012 for the Volt. The further bad news is that the Volt has so little demand in most regions that some dealerships are refusing to pay for required tools to repair the vehicles and are choosing to cease selling the vehicles instead.
General Motors moved quickly to complete its buyback of 200 million shares from the US Treasury Department before year end. It is a welcome sign that the Obama Administration is finally beginning to exit taxpayers' GM stake, a move that could have been made a year and a half ago when share price was closer to $30. While some felt it was never the place of Government to gamble taxpayer money on Wall Street by market timing the exit of Treasury's GM stake, others argued that taxpayers would be better served by waiting until GM share price rose to at least over the $33 IPO price of two years ago.