General Motors announced disappointing earnings results today and issued a warning that first quarter results will underwhelm as well. The reasons behind the earnings' miss are surely going to be explained away by pundits and proponents of the company still known as Government Motors to many. Sorting through the smoke and mirrors can lead to some important and simple explanations as to what is going on at GM.
The Obama Administration may have sold the last of the taxpayers' shares in General Motors, but it appears that politics will continue to play a powerful role in the management of the company. New GM CEO Mary Barra did not seem too concerned about appearances when she attended the State of the Union as Obama's guest. Her predecessor Dan Akerson in previous months had gone to great lengths to distance GM from the federal government.
General Motors is now approaching its fifth year of existence since emerging as a new entity as a result of the 2009 auto bailouts which saw taxpayers fund a bankruptcy process to the tune of $50 billion. Much has been debated about the "success" of GM since the controversial government-orchestrated restructuring. While GM management recently announced a dividend in an attempt to ensure investors of financial stability, a more telling indicator of the likelihood of future profitability may be found through an analysis of how competitive the company's vehicles are.
The internet was ablaze Tuesday evening with stories presenting a perceived positive move by General Motors' outgoing government-appointed management. All hail! "General Motors to pay first dividend since 2008," trumpeted the headlines. GM shares immediately spiked up in after-hours trading with shares rising about $1.60 or 4% on the news. Unfortunately for those duped by the proclamation, GM followed the story hours later with a profit warning. For the time being, the bad news outweighed the good with GM shares reversing course and ending the day Wednesday with a loss of over one and a half percent on a day that the market rallied.
General Motors seems to be really good at winning awards for its vehicles. The Chevy Silverado just took home the North American Truck of the Year Award at the Detroit Auto Show. The truck also was just embarrassingly recalled due to a potential fire hazard. Unfortunately for GM, the bad news outweighs the good as awards do not always result in increased sales. Just look at the award-winning Chevy Volt as an example.
The final tallies for 2013 sales are in for the Chevy Volt and its little sister, the Chevy Spark EV. The results are ugly.
While the Volt relies on both a gas engine and electric power, the Spark is actually an electric-only vehicle, assumedly designed to compete with the all-electric Nissan Leaf which had sales of 22,610 for the year. The Spark EV did not compete well, with sales for 2013 coming in at only 589 for the seven months in which it was offered. Chevy Volt sales for the year also disappointed, coming in at 23,094 and down from 2012 sales. The Volt's sales drop came during a year when overall US car sales rose about 8%.
A recent study by fleetcarma.com unveils yet another drawback of General Motors' much-hyped Chevy Volt. It appears that the environmentally-conscientious, affluent owners of the vehicles who drive in cold weather will get about half of the electric range, on average, of those who drive in warmer climates.
Yesterday, I confronted outgoing General Motors CEO Dan Akerson, the speaker at a National Press Club luncheon. At a press conference beforehand, and through the first question at the conclusion of his remarks, I requested that GM repay taxpayers the $10 billion in direct GM bailout costs.
Akerson's refusal dominated much of the media coverage of the event. This was clearly not the story line that Akerson intended. In short, we happily stepped all over his message that the bailout is a success and that GM is back.