The global auto industry is entering a defensive crouch in early 2019. But General Motors is a notable exception.
On Friday, The largest US carmaker by sales kicked off its Capital Markets Day in New York with a bullish outlook for 2019 and a better-than-expected look back on its 2018 financial results, which the company will report in February.
GM doesn’t anticipate a collapse in the US sales market; after four years of record or near-record sales above 17 million, the company guided Wall Street to a number in that range for 2019.
The company also expects the Chinese market — a source of concern for investors amid macro-economic pressures and the Trump trade war — to hold up, totalling approximately 27 million in vehicle sales for 2019.
Ahead of its fourth-quarter and full-year earnings announcement, GM also said it should exceed its previous 2018 guidance of $5.80-$6.20 per share on a diluted, adjusted basis. It also guided significantly higher for 2019’s bottom line: a range of $6.50 to $7 per share, above Wall Street’s anticipated consensus of around $6.
Adjusted free cash flow for 2018 should beat $4 billion, and GM guided toward an improved range of $4.5 billion to 6 billion for 2019. On a conference call in New York, CFO Dhivya Suryadevara indicated that GM’s restructuring process in 2018 could contribute between $2 billion and $2.5 billion to the company’s profit outlook.
On the product front, GM said that it would begin rolling out new vehicles in China this year. CEO Mary Barra added that a strong portfolio of SUVs and full-size pickups will drive the positive expectation for the bottom line.
Big news for Cadillac — it will become GM’s main electric-vehicle brand
In other news, the company said Cadillac would become its lead electric-vehicle brand, spearheading a plan to introduce 20 new electrified vehicles by 2023.
A number of new electric vehicles are coming to market this, from brands such as Jaguar, Audi, and Porsche. GM has been selling a long-range, mass-market EV in the Chevy Bolt, but the Cadillac move could signal that the carmaker wants to make a more aggressive stand in the luxury EV space, currently dominated by Tesla in the US.
Morgan Stanley analysts have suggested that carmakers would use the Detroit auto show, opening next week, to provide lower guidance. Booming sales are under stress as automakers grapple with a transformation to electric propulsion of the arrival of disruptive new mobility businesses.
GM is bucking that prediction, based on Barra and her leadership team’s efforts over the past few years to exit underperforming markets, invest in electric and autonomous transportation, and most recently, idle underused factories and proactively reduce employee headcounts. (In response to a media query, Barra said that the company isn’t planning to idle any additional factories.)
Investors have been skeptical, however, despite years of steady profits. GM shares have declined 21% over the last 12 months. On Friday, the stock was trading flat pre-market, at $35.