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General Motors has made a full recovery, more or less, from the unprecedented crisis which almost brought about the complete collapse of America's biggest car company in 2009. For much of the 20th century, the group was the undisputed leader in the global automobile market, with an extensive portfolio housing eight of America's most celebrated automobile marques and a large international footprint. As recently as 1980 almost half of all new cars sold in America were made by General Motors, and it enjoyed a similarly dominant position in other countries as well. Yet in the harsh environment of the 21st century, GM struggled to maintain its lead in the face of brutal competition, especially in the US, from manufacturers offering more flexible, less gas-hungry cars. A catastrophic fall in sales across the whole market during 2008 left the group poised on the brink of bankruptcy and it was overtaken for the first time in its history as the global #1 by rival Toyota (and then by Volkswagen as well). The following year, GM finally accepted defeat and filed for Chapter 11 protection. A new and much smaller company emerged from bankruptcy having shed the bulk of its huge debt burden as well as half of its car brands. Its main surviving brands are Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC. Only one major problem remained: its long-struggling business in Europe. After a few false starts, it finally found a solution to that dilemma in 2017 with a deal to sell Opel and Vauxhall to French manufacturer PSA. It also pulled out of India, South Africa, and more recently Australia, to concentrate on the Americas - primarily the US - and Asia - primarily China, now its single biggest market by volumes via two joint ventures with local manufacturers. Another important focus for the future is its fledgling autonomous vehicle division GM Cruise, whose minority investors include Honda, Microsoft and several private equity funds. In 2021, GM was the first major auto manufacturer to make a firm commitment to zero emission vehicles, pledging to end all sales of petroleum powered vehicles by 2035. Shipments have fallen steadily over the past few years as GM exited different global markets. GM reported sales of 6.29m vehicles in 2021, of which 2.2m were in the US and almost 2.9m in China. Unlike rivals such as VW, Toyota or Ford, GM has no single major global brand. Chevrolet is its biggest at approx 2.7m vehicles in 2021. Buick contributed a further 1.0m vehicles (the vast majority of them in China). Luxury brand Cadillac added 358k, and GMC light trucks added around 560k (mostly in North America). Another 1.64m vehicles came from Wuling and Baojun, two made-for-China brands produced in a local joint venture with SAIC. Mary Barra was appointed as CEO of GM in 2016, the first woman to lead any of the world's automotive majors. The road since then has been far from smooth: notable speedbumps have included a massive vehicle recall in 2016 and a labour dispute in 2019 that closed all US factories for six weeks. The latter impacted on performance in 2019, along with continuing withdrawals from smaller global markets; Covid played a significant part in depressing sales in 2020, and the global chip shortage hindered a bounceback in 2021. Revenues for the latter year recovered from the previous year's lows but only modestly, rising just 4% to $127.0bn. However, net income recovered strongly to $10.0bn.

Capsule checked 7th October 2020

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Who are the competitors of GM? See Cars Sector index for other companies

Advertising expenditure of GM? See ranking of Declared Advertising Costs

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Recent stories from Adbrands Update:

Marketer Moves 6th Apr 2022: Management reshuffle at GM & Chevrolet brand. See Marketer Moves (members only).

Adbrands Update 5th Jan 2022: In a notable though likely short-lived achievement, Toyota unseated General Motors as the top-selling car manufacturer in the US. It marks the first time since the 1930s that GM has failed to lead in its domestic market. Toyota reported total sales volumes of over 2.33m vehicles, up 10% year-on-year, while GM slipped 13% to 2.22. The main cause for the change was the global shortage of computer chips used in vehicle electronics. That forced GM to cut production while Toyota made an early decision to stockpile components, and thereby avoided the worst of the shortages. However, Toyota doesn't expect to retain its lead once the component drought eases. "To be clear, this is not our goal, nor do we see it as sustainable," said Jack Hollis, Toyota's North America SVP operations. The Toyota brand remained the #1 US auto brand, a position it has held now for ten consecutive years, with volumes of 2.02m vehicles, also up 10%. (Lexus accounted for most of the remaining cars). GM's lead brand Chevrolet slipped 18% to 1.42m vehicles in the US.

Adbrands Daily Update 8th Feb 2021: "Scissorhandsfree". There's something really rather brilliant about Leo Burnett's superb Super Bowl spot for Cadillac. First of all, whoever devised that original concept is a genius. Well, of course the ideal car for Edward Scissorhands would be the hands-free Cadillac Lyriq. And then the execution is just perfect. Johnny Depp is a little too controversial just now, but the idea of the lovechild of Edward Scissorhands and the still-beloved Winona Ryder has unbeatable emotional responance. And who better to play the son of Johnny and Winona than Timothee Chalamet? Hats off to Leo Burnett on this one. It's what great advertising is all about.

Adbrands Daily Update 2nd Oct 2020: Goldman Sachs made a second push into co-branded credit cards with the acquisition of GM's card operations for around $2.5bn. It topped a rival bid from Barclays, and will inherit the business from incumbent lender Capital One. GM joins Apple in Goldman's consumer card portfolio, adding around 1m cardholders and annual spending volumes of approx $8.5bn. Goldman is understood to be seeking further such deals to expand its operations.

Adbrands Daily Update 9th Sep 2020: GM sought to win itself some reflected warmth from the rocketing value of Tesla and other electric vehicle manufacturers by signing a strategic alliance with Nikola Corporation, a developer of electric trucks. GM agreed to acquire an 11% stake in the smaller company for around $2bn and will supply it with batteries and fuel cells. Though Nikola's vehicles are mostly heavy trucks, it is also developing a large pick-up, the Nikola Badger, which GM will now manufacture on its behalf. The tie-up sent the value of GM's stock up 8%, but Nikola's soared by over 40%. [Updated 30th Nov 2020: The deal was later scaled back considerably after allegations of fraud and misconduct were brought against Nikola and its founder. GM will still supply the company with fuel cells, but it will not acquire a shareholding, and the plans to develop the Badger pick-up were abandoned.]

Adbrands Daily Update 17th Feb 2020: GM announced plans to exit several further international markets, perhaps most significantly Australia. In fact, the writing has been on the wall for the group's Australian Holden business for at least a decade. Once the local leader in passenger cars, it has steadily lost sales since it was first overtaken by Toyota in 2003. In 2019 alone, shipments fell by 29%, putting it in 10th place with just 4% market share. (Toyota now has 20%). GM said it will wind down all local sales, design and engineering operations, and will retire the Holden brand altogether in 2021. Instead the company will focus solely on imported "specialty vehicles" in Australia, primarily through a third-party distribution partner. "At the highest levels of our company we have the deepest respect for Holden's heritage and contribution to our company and to the countries of Australia and New Zealand," said GM president Mark Reuss. "After considering many possible options – and putting aside our personal desires to accommodate the people and the market – we came to the conclusion that we could not prioritise further investment over all other considerations we have in a rapidly changing global industry." GM also announced plans to sell its local manufacturing operations in Thailand, and to withdraw the Chevrolet brand from that country.

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