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General Motors and Ford Face Growth Challenges Amid Electric Vehicle Slowdown

Bruno T
Analysis & Opinion
April 19 2024 6:54AM

American automakers General Motors (GM) and Ford are gearing up to report their first-quarter results next week, facing the common challenge of explaining to investors where future profit growth will originate as electric vehicle (EV) growth slows.

The global demand for electric vehicles is softening, while competition from Chinese automakers intensifies, and high loan costs in the United States have forced U.S. car manufacturers to delay investments and cut costs over the last 12 months. With China’s economy slowing down and U.S. inflation rising, a boost to macroeconomic growth seems far off, prompting companies like GM and Ford to focus on their core gasoline-powered vehicles, which generate the majority of their profits. GM and Ford are scheduled to release results on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.

GM CEO Mary Barra is likely to benefit from strong demand for the automaker’s highly profitable Chevrolet and GMC brand pickups and SUVs. Earlier this month, Barclays raised its price target for GM shares by 10% to $55, citing robust sales from GM’s truck and SUV line.

GM’s CFO, Paul Jacobson, commented that the year started well and that the company felt positive about demand trends, while Ford’s CFO, John Lawler, reaffirming the company’s full-year profit outlook, mentioned that vehicle prices were holding up better than expected.

The legacy U.S. automakers, which rely heavily on sales of large trucks and SUVs, have been burdened by higher costs related to the electrification of their vehicle ranges and the high demand for battery electric vehicles.

Evercore ISI analyst Chris McNally noted in a research memo that momentum has shifted back to earlier winners like Tesla as EV sales growth slows. Investors have refocused on GM, Stellantis, Toyota, and others that are less dependent on electric vehicles, he added.

The high proportion of gas-powered trucks relative to electric vehicles in GM’s North American sales mix will help offset the projected loss in the automaker’s operations in China. GM reported that its vehicle sales in the U.S. dropped 1.5% in the first quarter due to lower deliveries to commercial customers, but retail sales jumped 6%.

Barra has yet to outline specific plans for restructuring GM’s business in China. Last year, GM delivered 2.1 million vehicles in China, nearly half of the 4.04 million reported in 2017.

Meanwhile, investors are looking for an update on GM’s struggling Cruise robotaxi unit.

Barra has not disclosed how GM will finance the relaunch and rebuild of the business after a serious accident forced the company to halt its driverless transport operations. GM said it would cut spending by $1 billion this year at Cruise. The unit has lost more than $8 billion since GM acquired it in 2016.

Cruise announced on April 9 that it would put some vehicles back on the roads in Phoenix, Arizona, with human drivers.

Detroit’s automaker’s shares jumped in January when it signaled that more money would be returned to shareholders.

Ford is also drawing power from its combustion truck business and its Ford Pro commercial vehicle operations. The automaker reaffirmed its core profit forecast of $10 billion to $12 billion this year.

The automaker said earlier this month that it would slow down two major electric vehicle programs. CFO Lawler said at an investor conference that future investments in EVs will not go forward unless they can “stand on their own” to show a profit.