GM names Barra CEO; “bold and timid,” good luck

Luxury race to where

When I heard that the GM board had picked Mary Barra this morning, my gut reaction was different than most. It didn’t even dawn on my that they had picked a woman.  I thought about how they went with a 30+ year GM veteran.  So we have the first female head of a car company, great, now what?

gmAll morning we’ve heard the accolades and hopes.  Now that she has the reigns and the company is no longer constrained by government holdings, she has to prove herself the reformer she and her advocates say she is.  GM has a long way to go in throwing off the mantle of “government motors.”  To many insiders the moniker was as much an indictment on the bureaucracy and inefficiency of GM than the government shareholders we all knew were a losing investment.  

I liked GM’s move to ditch Chevy and focus on Opel in Europe last week.  Other moves including the relocation of International Operations out China seem more shuffling.

And don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with her being chosen over Mark Reuss, Steve Girsky or Dan Amman.  She has a strong engineering background has been through the ranks like any other vet and there’s no doubt she knows GM and the business.

The top centenders: Girsky, Amman, Barra, Reuss

The top contenders: Girsky, Amman, Barra, Reuss

Bottom line is that GM still faces some tough questions.

  • More and more competition from the same old foes like Ford and Toyota. But now they’re getting hit on the flanks from new US assaults from the likes of VW/Audi and Hyundai/Kia.
  • They still are too bureaucratic.  I love the story of her tossing the dress code, but what about streamlining sales/production and planning?  Have they overcome the real challenges bluntly laid out by industry maven Jerry Flint in 2000?  I hear conflicting reports from GM insiders and refugees.The bailout gave GM a new lease on life, I am cautious in the assumption that it gave them new DNA.
  • Finally, the real test for the industry and GM comes in the next 12-24 months as the US industry ends its run of double digit annual growth.  Crossing our fingers and hoping Europe turns is not a strategy.  It’s going to be the ultimate test of production and sales coordination.  We’ve seen huge strides in pricing power in 2013 at GM and  with most virtuous players.

But, I’m keeping an eye on building inventories, decreasing resale values and relatively low discounts;  If nothing else, she has a great environment to show her stuff.

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China 2013 Auto Sales: take the long term positive view

jcPassenger vehicle (PV)sales in China were up 7.1% in 2012.  If anyone thought the market would continue with double-digit growth they are 1) disappointed and 2) delusional.  In Tier 1 and 2 cities, the market is pretty much mature now.  As Tier 3 and 4 cities join the auto race, the overall PV market will continue to grow.  But high double-digit growth cannot be extrapolated ad infinitum and growth is not perfectly linear.

Look at chart 1 and you see that if we get only a 4% — very conservative – CAGR through the end of the decade we’ll see a market bigger than 20 million units.  China is firmly the biggest global auto market.  And remember from my past reports, global brands have at least half of this market.

china outlook

From a performance perspective, this modest assumption shows that we will have Continue reading

Q2 2012 Global Auto Earnings: four not so obvious thoughts

While everyone is laser focused on the imploding European auto industry and we ponder the sustainability of the US volume recovery, there are a few things to keep an eye on that may not be top-of-mind:

1) Latin America: The meteoric growth of the Brazilian market has slowed to standstill and surrounding markets have stalled as well.  While the industry has expected the flattening market, a steep rise in  low-cost imports has created pricing pressure.  Companies like Fiat, GM and VW who had been enjoying the tailwinds of strong double-digit margins over the past decade will feel Continue reading

China first half auto sales: still on two tracks

China auto sales are in for the first half and they are slightly ahead of the consensus of 5% growth for the year.  Overall PV sales are up 7.1% over last year, and again we see a two-tiered level of performance.

First-half growth was driven largely by a rebound on the Japanese brands after their hit from last year’s earthquake impact, and a push from luxury brands 2012 actions to move overbuilt inventory.  Overall GM + the Japanese brands lead the increase while locals were relatively flat.  June sales were extremely strong +16%, I see this as mainly driven against the constricted J3 sales post earthquake in 2011.

The Japanese brands drove market growth with newly stocked inventory.  June sales were extremely strong for Honda in particular, up 84%.  Nissan and Toyota had more regular supply last year leading to results more in line with YTD numbers.

However, all international brands are not the same Continue reading

Used cars in China: risks but VER¥ BIG opportunities

No, I don’t speak the language, but I do recognize that the development of the used cars (Èrshǒu chē) market marks a milestone in the maturity of the Chinese auto sector. In 2011. China passed the US as the largest new car market with 14.5 million passenger vehicle sales and from 2007-2011 the market saw more than 50 million new cars sold.

Going forward, the market may slow, but will remain at least in the 20 million range with foreign brands growing faster and more consistently than the overall market. During the first quarter of 2012, domestic brands fell 8.1% while foreign brands picked up 3.2 pts of market share, now accounting for 42.9% of total sales.

This trend could push the development of a local used car market as international brands work to import their experience in managing used car markets in the US, Japan and European markets. Among other pressures on the demand side are tightening emissions restrictions. Wholesale buyers are avoiding older, low-end units in favor or more recent mid-to-high-end and luxury cars. While there is currently a net oversupply of used vehicles in Beijing, luxury models such a used Mercedes have seen double-digit growth in China.

The steady growth has built a considerable park of existing vehicles in China. While there is no solidly reliable data on how long a first buyer (and more than two-thirds of buyers today are first time buyers) hold onto a car, we are seeing a burgeoning used car market. In 2009, the state had already begun efforts to reform the used market including standards for city and regional used car exchanges. Today, market participants are waiting for additional reforms to establish a uniform system on pricing, terms of sales as well as  protection and guarantees for consumers. These reforms should bolster the opportunity for dealers, supporting higher prices that would allow buyers to feel more confident in paying for the pricier non domestic used cars.

This foreshadows a tremendous opportunity and risk for foreign brands in China. If they can corral the used car market, Continue reading

J3 Automaker profits on track for FY 2013: probably so!

I’ve written in the past about the biggest impact on J3 earnings, not natural disasters or imagined acceleration…the yen.  With the yen trending stronger against the dollar over the past week, I took a look at estimates for FY2013 to double.  With Toyota and Honda using 80 yen/dollar and Nissan 82 yen/dollar, I’ve talked with some folks who are concerned that we may see some disappointment in the coming quarters if the yen hangs around these 78 levels.  I’m not so worried.  Let’s look at three points. Continue reading

China 2012 Auto market, another two tiered year.

When I saw that China Q1 2012 auto sales were down 1.2%, I wondered was this the “soft landing” or just the beginning. After growing 32% in 2010, the market slowed to a “modest” 5.4% uptick for 2011, Q1 may be disheartening; however, March sales were “up a tad.” Well, I had the chance last week to spend some time last week with executives from the Chinese auto retail sector and looked a little deeper with a front-line perspective.

Following some takeaways from my listening:

  • The PV market is and has been bifurcated. The 2010 incentives to spur growth of local brands accelerated the spread versus global brands. This explains why Continue reading