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General Motors Company (GM)’s Opportunity: An Update

While it has now been profitable for three years in a row, General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) is still a work in progress. On the one hand, GM has come a long way since the bad old days of last decade: It has minimal debt, more than $25 billion in cash, and a product line that is improving at a rapid rate.

Yet much remains to be done. General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) may be solidly profitable, but its profits are dwarfed by those of key rivals. It’s burning huge sums in Europe — almost $2 billion in 2012 alone. Its product line still lacks the end-to-end strength of its most important rivals, Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) , Volkswagen , and Toyota Motor Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:TM).

General Motors Company (NYSE:GM)Is GM’s stock a buy, or something to avoid? Last fall, I created a premium report on GM to help investors understand if GM is likely to follow Ford and return to glory — or whether it’s destined to remain, for all of its size, an also-ran.

Following are excerpts from the latest edition of the report, updating GM’s opportunity — and a key area of concern — in 2013 and beyond. We hope you enjoy it.

General Motors Company (NYSE:GM)’s opportunity
GM has shown steady progress since its emergence from bankruptcy in 2009, with 12 consecutive profitable quarters through 2012, and a net profit of $4.9 billion last year. [CEO Dan] Akerson and his team continue to work to improve GM’s margins, and given favorable economic conditions, profits are almost certain to rise significantly in coming years.

Perhaps most importantly, GM’s product portfolio — long filled with also-rans — is improving rapidly, and the company has already reached parity with key competitors in several market segments. Recent models like the Chevrolet Cruze and Cadillac ATS compete well with Japanese, Korean, and German rivals.

General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) is still in the process of revamping its global product line, with important introductions due to arrive over the next several quarters. Those introductions include replacements for the company’s most important products, its full-sized pickups, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. Both were first shown in January of 2013, and production models are due at dealers before summer.

Several other new models are expected in 2013, including replacements for the important Chevrolet Impala and Cadillac CTS sedans. As those products are rolled out, GM’s sales, margins, and overall competitive standing should continue to improve.

But much work remains to be done. In August of 2011, GM senior management announced a long-range plan to streamline and simplify GM’s global product offerings, much as Ford has done with its “One Ford” plan. Under the plan, by 2018, GM will be building 90% of its vehicles — total, around the world – on just 14 “core architectures,” or platforms, down from about 30 today.

The benefits from such a consolidation will be extremely significant. Over the last few years, Ford has demonstrated that such an approach leads to better, more competitive vehicles, because with fewer core architectures, more resources can be devoted to the development of each. This in turn leads to both better economies of scale and the ability to increase asking prices, both of which will improve margins. That leaves more money to develop the next generation of vehicles, and so on: a virtuous circle.