Things are beginning to look up again, at last, for long-troubled General Motors. Yesterday the firm issued public shares for the first time since its bankruptcy; they sold better than expected, and today are on track to raise $23bn for the General.
That’s still less than half of the bailout that GM was given by the US government, but should be enough to reduce the US tax-payer’s stake in the company to 33 per cent.
What’s more, GM is once again a globally profitable business: ‘right-sized’ and profitable in the US, profitable in South East Asia, seriously profitable in China. The disappointing thing to Europeans, of course, is that GM Europe is still losing money. However, as GM Europe President Nick Reilly explained to a room full of journalists last night, Europe won’t be loss-making much longer.
“We’re about a year behind the US in our restructuring plan, and we’re yet to see much financial reward from the cost cuts we’ve been making,” Reilly said. “It costs money to close plants and make redundancies: we’re currently closing our Antwerp plant, taking capacity out of others, and will have lost 8000 employees out of 50,000 by the middle of next year.”
GM Europe will lose $1.9bn in 2010. “We expected to lose a little more than that, but some of our restructuring costs will roll over into 2011. But there’s still a chance of returning to profit next year,” Reilly says, praising the higher transaction prices that the new Astra, Insignia and Meriva are fetching, the pleasing volumes they’re hitting, and the greater margin they bring in relative to their precedessor models.
And the future looks even brighter for GM Europe. There’s a pseudo-premium supermini in the product plan – a rival for the Fiat 500 and Citroen DS3. An all-new mid-sized coupe may even be on the cards: a successor to the Calibra. And that’s before we’ve even touched on the Ampera and its legacy.
Reilly, who formerly ran General Motors’ Asian, Australian and South American operations from the Far East, can take a great deal of credit for the gathering recovery of GM’s European business. “When they (GM’s executive board) asked me to come in last year,” the 60-year-old Brit said, “they didn’t tell me it would be permanent; I thought I was just starting the recovery plan. For a few weeks, I was actively looking for my own successor. Until I got a call from Detroit when they simply told me: ‘stop looking – we want you to stay.”
So how long will he stay? “I’m 60 now, and GM employment contracts generally run until you’re 65. That would seem to give me five years to finsh the job, and to put Opel/Vauxhall back in what we see as its rightful place in the market. At the moment, I don’t think our brand does justice to the great products we have, so part of the challenge is to make Opels and Vauxhalls more desirable.”
“That may take longer than five years; I’m prepared to stay on as long as it takes, but equally things may not go as well as I hope, and I could end up in early retirement,” he jokes.
To these eyes, however, Reilly’s hardest work is already done: as he says himself, GM Europe seems to be back on the front foot, and looking to new opportunities.
Perhaps buying some of those $33 shares isn’t such a bad idea…