October 1, 2015 / 1:25 PM / 3 years ago

GM targets double-digit earnings growth in 2016

MILFORD, Mich. (Reuters) - General Motors Co told Wall Street on Thursday that its recovery is gathering momentum with improving margins, strong brands, new markets for high-tech vehicles, and prospects for stronger profits in coming years.

General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra speaks to the media during the GM Global Business Conference at the GM Milford Proving Grounds in Milford, Michigan, October 1, 2015. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

The No. 1 U.S. automaker said it is targeting an increase in earnings per share to between $5 and $5.50 per share before items, from the $4.50 per share that Wall Street analysts expect for this year. GM earned $3.05 per share in 2014 before items.

GM said it will increase its return to investors by stronger profit margins in China and North America, as well as operating efficiencies and share buybacks.

An improving U.S. economy and rapid jobs growth have put 2015 U.S. car sales on track for sales of more than 17 million. GM, the market leader, has shown a 4.2 percent increase in the U.S. market through September, which is expected to be in line with industry growth when that figure is known later on Thursday.

In an annual presentation to investors in the Detroit suburb of Milford, Michigan, GM said its pre-tax global margins target is 9 percent to 10 percent by “early next decade.”

The Detroit-based automaker, which reported a 12-percent rise in U.S. September sales, has had a difficult time convincing Wall Street of its value and its shares have fallen below $30 recently, well short of its 2010 initial public offering of $33 per share.

That IPO came a little over a year after GM emerged from a government-funded bankruptcy in which the company pared four of its brands and much of its U.S. dealership network.

GM said it will have revenue of $155 billion this year as well as global margins of 6.8 percent and a 24 percent return on invested capital.

Shares rose 1.3 percent to $30.42 on the New York Stock Exchange, while the broader market was down slightly.

The company will save about $5.5 billion in the next three years in efficiencies in manufacturing, administration and purchasing, which will pay for investments in technology and brand development.

The savings through 2018 will “more than offset” the technology and brand investments, GM said.

Some $2 billion of the savings will be on materials GM uses for its vehicles, said Mark Reuss, the company’s global product chief.

GM Chief Executive Mary Barra said the company will develop its autonomous vehicle program by having its employees at its primary technical center in Warren, Michigan drive a fleet of plug-in hybrid 2017 Chevrolet Volts.

“We will redefine customers and their personal mobility,” said Barra.

Barra spoke with Reuters about this effort earlier this week.

She said this effort “starts with connectivity” that will be used to advance its autonomous vehicles. It will also include an electric bicycle that the company expects to be sold in densely populated global cities.

It plans to launch a citywide car sharing service in the U.S. in early 2016, expanding efforts to compete for revenue from consumers who want to pay for using cars instead of owning them.

Barra said GM executives will update investors on its plans in China and India later on Thursday.

GM plans for 39 percent of its global sales to come from new or refreshed vehicles, up from 26 percent this year. It said that the share of those new vehicles will be 40 percent of its total sales in 2017, 31 percent in 2018, and 40 percent in both 2019 and 2020.

Barra said she has not had any further contact with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV. Several months ago, Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne sent Barra an email saying he wanted the two companies to merge, a notion Barra has consistently said she and the company’s board of directors are not interested in.

GM said it expects $9 billion to $10 billion of annual free cash flow by 2020.

GM expects industry growth in China of 3 percent to 5 percent each year from 2014 to 2020. One of major reasons that GM shares have fallen recently is that its China sales are threatened by a general weakening of the world’s top auto market and No. 2 economy.

While the electric vehicle market has been pressured by low fuel prices in 2015, a lowering of the costs of EV battery cells will fall by 2022 to the threshold of $100 per kilowatt-hour that analysts have said will allow EVs to compete with vehicles fueled by petroleum.

GM said that when it introduces the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt small electric car next year, it expects the cost of its battery cells to be an “industry-leading” $145 per kWh.

Global auto sales industrywide will grow by more than 50 percent to 130 million vehicles by 2030, from about 85 million now.

While GM, the No. 3 global automaker by sales, is not interested in merging with global No. 7 automaker Fiat Chrysler, it expects to gain $2 billion to $3 billion in savings from developing technology with other automakers.

Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Nick Zieminski

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