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Published: Wednesday, 8/10/2011

GM chief voices doubt on sales

Akerson says overall U.S. level may not achieve predicted 13M

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Dan Akerson, chairman and CEO, and other executives outlined a plan to cut the number of platforms on which vehicles are built. Dan Akerson, chairman and CEO, and other executives outlined a plan to cut the number of platforms on which vehicles are built.
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DETROIT -- The top executive at General Motors Co. is having doubts about whether U.S. auto sales will recover this year as expected.

Speaking to industry analysts about GM's long-term financial plans Tuesday, Dan Akerson, the company's chairman and chief executive officer, said the automaker is sticking with its U.S. sales forecast of about 13 million cars and trucks for the year, but he is not certain sales will make it that high.

"There's a lot of turmoil in the business, and turmoil means uncertainty," Mr. Akerson said. GM's finances, he said, are strong enough to "power through these dips" in sales.

He spoke at GM's second-annual global business conference, during which company executives made some optimistic predictions.

GM has made billions in just two years out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Analysts were told that GM is looking to become more efficient so it can make even stronger profits and that it plans to boost factory capacity 45 percent in Brazil, Russia, India, and China by 2014 to take advantage of expected sales growth.

The U.S. stock market slide and international government debt problems were barely mentioned during the presentation, which lasted more than four hours.

GM's shares have lost more than 20 percent of their value since its November initial public stock offering. They recovered a bit Tuesday, along with the rest of the market. GM closed up 97 centsat $25.54.

During the presentation, GM executives outlined cost-saving measures. They included halving the number of frames on which vehicles around the globe are based. In 2010, GM had 30 frames, known in the industry as platforms. By 2018, it plans to cut that number to 14.

It also will sell more of the cars and trucks built on those platforms around the globe, saving on manufacturing, engineering, and design costs. The company also plans to cut the number of engines it develops as well as cut the number of parts it uses.

"There's a lot of complexity. We need to simplify it," Mr. Akerson said. "More of our components will be common, and more of our vehicles will be on global architectures."

GM said just 6 percent of its cars and trucks are built off global platforms now. That is to rise to 90 percent by 2018 as the company tries to catch up with industry leaders.

Ford Motor Co. began a similar effort four years ago. It is on track to cut global platforms to 12 by 2013, according to a research note from Bank of America released Tuesday. Ford had 27 platforms in 2007. Ford aims to build 83 percent of its cars and trucks off global platforms in 2013.

GM Chief Financial Officer Dan Amman said it will not talk about buying back common shares or paying dividends until early next year.



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