Virus shutdowns in the rearview for US automakers

DETROIT — General Motors is posting huge third quarter numbers, pulling in $4 billion in profit over three months, after a short money-losing stretch as the spread of COVID-19 shut down all US auto factories.

Automakers have sprinted out of their pandemic lockdowns, and GM’s big quarter follows similar performances at crosstown rivals Ford and Fiat. All three blew past Wall Street’s sales and profit projections.

Last week, Fiat Chrysler reported a $1.4 billion quarterly profit. Ford earned $2.39 billion, triple Wall Street projections.

While shares are down for the year, the stock of all three automakers has surged in the past three months. Shares of General Motors Co. jumped 6 per cent before the opening bell Thursday.

GM’s adjusted earnings were $2.83 per share, easily outpacing Wall Street’s per-share projections of $1.43, according to a survey by FactSet. Revenue of $35.5 billion was about in line.

The company swung back strongly from a $806 million loss in the second quarter when it was restarting factories shuttered for safety during the early stages of the pandemic.

Auto sales across the globe have bounced back strongly, particularly in China, which has held additional coronavirus outbreaks in check. GM’s sales in China jumped 12 per cent in the third quarter, with sales of its Buick and Cadillac brands both rising more than 25 per cent.

In the US, GM’s most profitable market where the pandemic has gone largely unchecked, sales fell 9.9 per cent in the third quarter compared with a year ago.

That’s still were a dramatic improvement over the 34 per cent sales drop in the second quarter. And sales improved sequentially each month in the most recent quarter, the automaker said, an encouraging trend.

GM’s profit was boosted by higher-priced pickup trucks and large SUVs, which have seen strong sales in the US through the pandemic. It was the best quarter on record for GM’s Chevrolet Blazer. Sales of the Cadillac XT6 spiked 45 per cent in the US over last year. Large pickups also sold well.

GM is also pumping $2 billion into its Spring Hill, Tennessee manufacturing plant to push its transition to produce electric vehicles.