GM Earnings Rose Sharply in 2021

General Motors Co.


GM 2.54%

said it plans to accelerate the timetable for some electric-vehicle launches and will establish a third factory to build plug-in trucks, anticipating a sharp rise in demand for EVs.

The disclosure follows mounting questions from Wall Street about whether the auto maker is moving quickly enough to get a planned wave of electric vehicles to market. Chief Executive Mary Barra used the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call Tuesday to further detail GM’s plans.

“We also recognize we need to launch more EVs faster,” Ms. Barra told analysts. “That’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

Ms. Barra told analysts GM has targeted sales of 400,000 electric vehicles in North America this year and next. That would mark a sharp acceleration from 2021, when it sold fewer than 25,000 electrics in the U. S.—all Chevrolet Bolts, whose production has been paused for months to fix battery problems that had led to fires.

The CEO also said the company is working on plans for a third electric-truck plant, which would join one that recently began building vehicles in suburban Detroit, and another one planned nearby that GM revealed last week.

GM and other traditional car companies are upping their bets in electric vehicles as they try to wrest the spotlight from Tesla Inc. and a slew of new startups focused solely on battery-powered models.

Ms. Barra said GM for now won’t re-establish its dividend, which was suspended in spring 2020, because it wants to prioritize spending on electric vehicles and other growth bets.

GM also said that Cruise, its majority-owned driverless-car startup, has begun offering free driverless taxi rides for the public in San Francisco. That milestone triggers an additional $1.35 billion in funding from investor SoftBank Vision Fund under terms of its initial 2018 investment in Cruise.

After the close of trading Tuesday, GM reported a net profit of $10 billion for 2021. GM said full-year pretax profit, which strips out nonrecurring items, rose 47% to a record $14.3 billion.

Revenue rose 3.7% last year to $127 billion, despite deep production cuts from the ongoing computer-chip shortage and a lack of new inventory on dealership lots. Fourth-quarter profit slid 39% in 2021 as the parts crisis took its toll on factory output later in the year.

The strong full-year earnings come as GM and other traditional car companies are upping their bets in electric vehicles, looking to wrest the spotlight from Tesla Inc. and a slew of new startups focused solely on battery-powered models.

GM provided a robust outlook for 2022, projecting it could earn between $9.4 billion and $10.8 billion in net income this year. The company said its forecast assumes demand remains steady and there are no significant economic or supply-chain challenges.

Global auto makers managed to deliver strong profits last year despite the global semiconductor crunch that caused them to curtail production. The snarled output resulted in scant selection at dealer lots and soaring new-vehicle prices, padding auto makers’ profit margins.

Still, the chip shortage dealt GM a heftier blow than many of its rivals, denting sales and allowing Toyota Motor Corp. for the first time overtake it as the U.S.’s top-selling car company by annual sales.

Ford Motor Co.

is also expected to report strong profits when it releases year-end results Thursday. In October, it boosted its full-year guidance to $10.5 billion to $11.5 billion, as the company took advantage of easing supply-chain problems and cranked up fourth-quarter production.

Ford and GM recently introduced their first electric pickup trucks. WSJ auto reporter Mike Colias breaks down the different strategies the two legacy auto manufacturers are pursuing to bring their EVs to market. Photo Illustration: Alexander Hotz/WSJ

Investors are looking for more on the companies’ outlooks for 2022 amid concerns over inflation and the continuing semiconductor kinks, and are eager for updates on their electric-vehicle progress, analysts say. Plans to steer more money into battery factories and other electric-vehicle building blocks propelled shares of both auto makers in 2021.

The sentiment on Wall Street has started to shift this year as investors pulled back on electric-vehicle startups

Rivian Automotive Inc.,

its shares down 37% as of Monday’s close,

Lucid Group Inc.,

off 23%, and

Fisker Inc.,

down 25%.

Tesla’s shares dropped sharply last week after it reported record profits and Chief Executive

Elon Musk

said the company would increase vehicle deliveries by more than 50% but hold off on new-model introductions. The stock price has since rebounded and was down 11% this year as of Monday’s close.

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Now is the time for traditional auto makers to make the case that they are positioned to cash in on the nascent electric-vehicle market, Morningstar analyst

David Whiston

said. GM and Ford are hurrying to launch electric versions of their big pickup trucks, models that deliver most of their profit.

“As an investor, you do have more choices to bet on electric vehicles than Tesla and the EV startups,” Mr. Whiston said. “Both GM and Ford are not messing around.”

The U.S. auto makers each started the year touting major investments to speed electric vehicles to market. GM last week said it will spend about $6 billion on a new battery plant and factory conversion in Michigan to make plug-in Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierras.

Ford shares surged early last month when the company disclosed plans to roughly double production plans for the F-150 Lightning electric pickup, set to go on sale this spring.

Tesla’s decision to push back some vehicle introductions could create an opportunity for the Detroit auto makers, Mr. Whiston said.

For example, Mr. Musk said the company’s planned Cybertruck won’t be released this year, as had been expected, and plans for another model—an entry-level vehicle priced at about $25,000—have been put on hold.

GM has said it plans to introduce a $30,000 Chevy Equinox sport-utility vehicle in 2023 and has plans in the works for an even less-expensive offering.

The company is rolling out a $100,000 GMC Hummer electric and this spring plans to introduce a Cadillac electric SUV, the Lyriq, starting around $60,000. Still, GM executives have faced questions about how quickly it will begin selling electrics in significant numbers.

In an interview, GM President

Mark Reuss

said the company’s strategy is to use the same basic battery system, named Ultium, to offer more models than rivals.

“No one else has a portfolio like we have coming,” he said last week. “If you think the Silverado is taking too long, go buy a Hummer or go buy a Lyriq.”

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Write to Mike Colias at [email protected]

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