GM expects flat 2018 earnings, projects growth in 2019

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. expects this year's earnings to be in line with 2017 -- and the automaker is already projecting growth in 2019.

GM is expecting a slate of crossover launches last year will keep margins up early in 2018 while it gears up to put the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado in showroooms later in the year -- a bump that should carry over into 2019. The automaker also cites  growth at GM Financial and cost-savings efforts to drive strong financial results next year.

It's proof that feeding the truck- and crossover-hungry auto market as it exists now is key in funding the Detroit automaker's mobility-driven future.

“Reshaping the company over the last few years has allowed us to deploy resources and capital to higher-return opportunities including our next-generation trucks and establishing leadership in the future of mobility,” GM president Dan Ammann said in a statement Tuesday. “The all-new full-size truck family that launches this year will generate very strong returns for years to come.”

The GMC Sierra will debut later this year. Similar to the widening trim-line options on the Silverado, the Sierra will come in eight distinct models with six engine/transmission options.

"We are bulking up the bandwidth both at low end and high end of the market," Ammann told reporters.

He says GM sees a "meaningful opportunity" in its wider slate of truck offerings, but did not offer specifics on projected profit margins on these vehicles.

The automaker says its truck franchise, which includes mid-size, light- and heavy-duty pickups as well as large SUVs built on the same frame, is a $65 billion "high-margin business."

GM says it sold a record 948,909 pickups in the U.S. in 2017, and its average transaction price growth is outperforming the segment. The average transaction prices for its full-size trucks in December ranged from $42,340 for the Silverado to $53,170 for the Sierra. The industry average was roughly $47,500.

"We will continue to stay focused on delivering a customer-focused portfolio" while developing products for the future, CEO Mary Barra told investors at the 2018 Deutsche Bank Global Auto Industry Conference in Detroit Tuesday. "We believe we are uniquely position to lead the industry in how we are transported from Point A to Point B going forward."

The Detroit automaker drew interest from investors in 2017 with strong commitments in autonomy and electrification. Some of these plans will start to take shape in 2018, as GM prepares to launch a fleet of driverless Cruise AVs -- which will be built without steering wheels or gas pedals -- in a yet-to-be-named city next year.

GM expects to invest about $1 billion in autonomous vehicles in 2018, which the company says is in line with the plan it first announced in November. It has not offered an estimate on when that end of the business will be profitable.

The Detroit automaker forecasts earnings-per-share for 2017 in the range of $6 to $6.50. GM is expects 2018 earnings to be consistent with those projected results.

Barclay's analyst Brian Johnson said GM's forecast bodes well for the automaker in 2018.

"We think investors will come to better appreciate the combination of strong earnings, as well as continued progress in GM’s quest to claim a leading role in the future world of #DisruptiveMobility," he said in an emailed statement.

As GM prepares for a new corporate tax rate in the GOP tax bill, the company will take a non-cash $7 billion write-down of its tax assets in the fourth quarter of 2017, said GM spokesman Tom Henderson.

Still, GM views the tax bill very positively, Henderson said. “We think it will be a benefit to the industry as well as consumers.”

GM exited Europe in 2017, completing the sales of Opel/Vauxhall and GM Financial European businesses to PSA Group. The automaker is counting on strength in North America and China — and “improvement in South America” — to drive its performance in 2018.

“GM had a very good 2017 as we continued to transform our company to be more focused, resilient and profitable,” Barra said in the statement. “We are positioned for another strong year in 2018 and an event better one in 2019.”