For GM, no sign of fading pricing power or demand in Q1 earnings report

for gm no sign of fading pricing power or demand in q1 earnings report
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Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misstated GM’s first-quarter net income figure.

DETROIT — General Motors is relying on pricing power and pent-up demand for some of its most profitable vehicles to carry it through the year, even as its consumers face inflationary pressures.

So far, the strategy has worked. The automaker’s first-quarter net income of $2.9 billion was only 2.7 percent lower than a year earlier, despite $2.5 billion in higher costs, as global revenue rose 11 percent.

GM is confident in demand for its products — especially its new and upcoming electric vehicles and its freshened full-size pickups — and believes it can maintain high pricing across its lineup. GM expects sales to grow through the year as it aims to increase global production by 25 to 30 percent over 2021.

Days after officially confirming plans for at least two electrified Chevrolet Corvettes, executives emphasized their focus on electric and autonomous vehicles, which account for 80 percent of GM’s capital spending, and told investors the company now ties executive compensation to the launch timing, quality and North American volume of EVs.

Still, executives reiterated that GM’s internal combustion business will continue to drive profits higher in the near term.

“We continue to see a pricing opportunity because there is demand for our product,” CEO Mary Barra told reporters this week.

“What we are seeing from a GM perspective gives us confidence that we have the pricing power and customer demand for our products.”

Many consumers in the new-vehicle market are less impacted by current economic factors, such as inflation and rising interest rates, Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Cox Automotive, told Automotive News.

“They can still afford to be in the new-vehicle market, and they tend to buy more expensive vehicles. There is reason for [GM’s] optimism,” she said. “That’s where the bulk of their business is these days.”

GM’s assembly plants largely ran regular production schedules in the first quarter as the automaker mitigated the global microchip shortage and other parts constraints, CFO Paul Jacobson told investors this week.

Production volume increased 12 percent from the fourth quarter, and most vehicles have been selling as soon as they arrive at dealerships, he said.

GM doubts industrywide inventory will increase substantially over last year, even as GM expands its own production levels. GM’s production “has been a little bit more robust than what we’ve heard from some of our competitors going forward,” Jacobson said.

As the automaker prepares to launch more of its EV portfolio — with the Chevrolet Silverado EV, Equinox EV, Blazer EV and GMC Hummer SUV due out next year — it continues to rely on the profit potential of its traditional lineup.

In the first quarter, GM launched freshened versions of the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra, with starting prices that range from more than $35,000 for the base Silverado to more than $80,000 for the Sierra in its new top trim, Denali Ultimate.

GM plans to add a third shift at Oshawa Assembly in Ontario this summer to build light-duty and heavy-duty pickups and has increased parts sharing and reduced build combinations.

“Our results were similar to the first quarter of last year despite $2.5 billion in higher costs, highlighting the strength of our products and the demand environment,” Jacobson said. “We recognize the consumer is facing inflationary pressures. However, we continue to see ongoing strong customer demand for our vehicles, including our refreshed full-size pickup trucks.”

GM’s average transaction price in the first quarter reached $50,854, 14 percent more than a year earlier, according to Cox Automotive.

“Their strength in terms of sales came from their large SUVs, pickup trucks, and those also had strong ATPs,” Krebs said.

The Cadillac Escalade and Escalade ESV were GM’s most expensive models, selling for more than $108,000, according to Cox.

GM cut incentives to an average of $1,966 per vehicle, 59 percent lower year over year, Cox said.

GM Financial, the automaker’s captive lender, issued loans and leases to nearly half of retail customers who purchased new GM vehicles in the first quarter.

Most of those customers likely fall into prime credit tiers, because prime buyers make up nearly 70 percent of GM Financial’s portfolio.

GM has discouraged dealers from taking advantage of strong demand and low inventories by marking up prices.

The small number of dealers who have broken GM’s agreement on vehicle pricing will lose allocation, Barra said.

“For the most part, our dealers are respecting the MSRP,” she said. “I have actually had dealers send me letters committing to me that they’re doing that.”


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