GM Posts First Profitable Year Since 2004

Chevy VoltGeneral Motors has just posted its first profit since 2004, has beaten expectations, and is cutting a profit-sharing check to its employees. Is this a sign the motor industry has turned a corner and is ready to embrace the electric future? (Also: see our earlier post.)

GM's fourth quarter net income reached $510 million, and the quarterly revenues of $36.9 billion beat the Street's prediction of $33 billion. All in all, the profit for 2010 reached $4.7 billion--which doesn't represent a good profit ratio, but it is the first full-year profit in six years (a period during which GM lost about $90 billion). In celebration (and to keep moral up), GM is profit sharing with its employees to the tune of around $4,300 each.

How did GM pull this off? The rebounding (if still sluggish) economy is a big factor, of course, with consumers now happy to spend money on big-ticket purchases like cars--U.S. sales rose 6.3%. And a big factor was sales of vehicles into China, with figures there up nearly 29% on 2009's numbers.

But the public actually has to want GM's products for sales to occur, and since its government-bail out and bankruptcy, it seems GM actually has delivered on this front (as well as aggressively cutting costs inside its bloated operation). Though sales into Europe aren't as high as they could be, GM is pushing its brand there and even moved to replace Daewoo branding with Chevy branding (nine years after it bought Daewoo's car business out of bankruptcy), trading on big U.S. heritage appeal and brand image.

And high-profile efforts like the Chevy Volt have also struck a chord with a public that's increasingly sensitive to global warming and environmental issues, and the Volt is one of the most well-known electric vehicles, as well as being among the first on the scene and is more affordable than products from big EV makers like Tesla. In fact GM used the Volt as a key part of its campaign for federal bail-out cash.

So can we thank the Volt for the new profitable GM, and see it as a sign the car industry will really embrace eco tech?

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