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. 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. Shipments have fallen steadily over the past few years as GM exited different global markets. Total registrations in 2020 were 6.26m vehicles. Unlike rivals such as VW, Toyota or Ford, GM has no single major global brand. Chevrolet is its biggest at 2.96m vehicles in 2020, mostly sold in the Americas. Buick contributed a further 1.06m vehicles (the vast majority of them in China). Luxury brand Cadillac added 357k, and GMC light trucks added 594k (mostly in North America). Almost another 1.6m 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; while Covid played a significant part in depressing sales in 2020. Revenues for the latter year fell sharply to $122.5bn, the lowest level since the bankruptcy year of 2009. However, net income was resilient at $6.2bn. 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.
Capsule checked 7th October 2020
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Historical profile information for General Motors
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.
Adbrands Daily Update 13th Jan 2020: GM is to relaunch the Hummer brand name, not as a separate standalone business, but as a specialist model under the umbrella of its GMC truck division. Originally created as a civilian version of the US military's hard-duty Humvee carrier, Hummer was discontinued in 2010 following GM's Chapter 11 filing. The new GMC Hummer is expected to launch in 2022 as an all-electric off-road pick-up. NBA star LeBron James has been signed to promote the vehicle, and the first ad is expected to air during next month's Super Bowl.
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