GM’s quarterly earnings report: trucks, SUVs and a few small oddities

General Motors
announced this morning that 2018 was a good year for it financially, thanks in large part to the company’s performance in North America, which was predicated, according to the company, on «strong pricing, surging crossover sales, successful execution of the company’s full-size truck launch, growth of GM Financial earnings, and disciplined cost control.»

GM reported full-year income of $8.1 billion and EBIT-adjusted income of $11.8 billion. Crossover sales in 2018 were 1,034,808, an increase of 7 percent compared to 2017 deliveries. Throw in the body-on-frame SUVs and the ute number is a total 1,295,700.

But let’s face it: It is the trucks that really matter. The Chevy Silverado and Colorado, the GMC Sierra and Canyon. Altogether, GM sold 973,463 pickups in the U.S. in 2018. Although Ford gets bragging rights for F-Series sales, GM gets to point out that it has a greater aggregate number.

An important factor regarding the trucks and the reported income is that during the last quarter, more than 90 percent of the new 2019 trucks were crew cabs (which have a higher sticker), and at GMC more than 70 percent were Denali and AT4 models (which have even higher stickers).

According to reporting by Bloomberg, GM’s pickup trucks combine for $65 billion in annual revenue. Clearly when the 2018 sales of the Silverado — 585,581— dwarf the combined sales of both Buick (206,863) and Cadillac combined (154,702), pickups are what matter to the overall health of the company in a way that it is difficult to otherwise achieve.

The «disciplined cost control» is something that is very much in the public eye right now, as the company is
taking out thousands of its workers, and there is still the
«unallocated» plant situation and other plants that will
remain under capacity.

The numbers in GM’s earnings report probably made Unifor members’ heads explode in consternation, coming fresh off their Super Bowl ad: »
GM, you may have forgotten our generosity, but we’ll never forget your greed.»

But there are a couple of curiosities in the full GM earnings release.

One is that so far as its autonomous efforts go, it mentions only that (1) in the first quarter of 2018 Cruise introduced a production-ready autonomous vehicle, and (2) Cruise attracted $5 billion in external capital from
SoftBank and Honda.

Not a whole lot of love for autonomy. Good thing they have the trucks to fund the program, to say nothing of the external capital.

And the second is Alice-in-Wonderland curious: The third section of the release is headed «Cadillac Momentum Continues in 2019.» Cadillac U.S. sales were down 1.1% in 2018. Admittedly that’s less than Buick (-5.6%) and Chevy (-1.4%), but doesn’t «momentum» imply forward motion?

The sales heat of crossovers and SUVs notwithstanding, Cadillac’s performance in those categories certainly didn’t set the world on fire in 2018. The Escalade, long in the tooth and ready for replacement, saw a sales decline of 2.2 percent. The XT5, comparatively new (it launched in 2016 as a 2017 model), was off by 11.3 percent compared with its 2017 sales. There is no way to look at that as anything but disturbing. There is the XT4, but as it launched in fall 2018, and racked up 7,785 deliveries, it is too early to tell.

They evidently have a lot riding on Cadillac. The only photo in the release is of the Cadillac EV concept revealed just ahead of 2019 NAIAS, and the text says: «Cadillac will lead the company to an all-electric future.»

But although Cadillac is ostensibly being put forth as GM’s technology leader, if the past is prelude, that proposition is an iffy one.

Remember the Cadillac ELR, the electrified Cadillac? That vehicle was in the market for three years. (It had a few day’s run in 2013, which resulted in six deliveries, so we won’t count that—although counting that would help.)

In its first year, 2014, there were 1,310 U.S. sales. The following year it was down to 1,024. Then in 2016, 534 were moved off the lots.

Until or unless GM can start rolling out some
electric pickup trucks with a Cadillac badge, that «all-electric future» is probably far, far away.

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