GM CEO says no production disruptions due to Japan

By @ibtimes on

General Motors Co Chief Executive Dan Akerson said the company has not been greatly affected by supply disruptions due to the March earthquake in Japan, and the company wants to repay U.S. taxpayers before making acquisitions or declaring a dividend.

We've had no disruptions in production in our global operations to date. That was really a second quarter event in terms of impact. So far, so good, said Akerson in a telephone interview on Thursday.

Akerson declined to offer sales or production forecasts, citing next week's first-quarter earnings report by the No. 1 U.S. automaker.

He said as long as U.S. gasoline prices do not rise out of their current range near $4 per gallon we'll be fine.

GM's balance sheet, helped by a $52 billion bailout funded by U.S. taxpayers, is now in the best shape it has been in since the 1950s, Akerson said.

With $30 billion in cash on the books at the end of 2010, GM will not make major acquisitions or give a dividend in the near-term, he said.

The taxpayers of America still own about 27 percent of the company on a fully diluted basis and we want to return the good favor and give that money back to the taxpayers before we get too ambitious in terms of acquisitions or dividends, Akerson said.

In a count by common shares, the U.S. Treasury still owns 32 percent of the Detroit-based automaker.

Last week, sources said the Treasury could sell a significant portion of its GM shares by fall.

Before GM's 2009 bankruptcy, the company polled U.S. consumers and their perception of the automaker was pretty bad, Akerson said. In another survey after its record IPO last November, five in eight respondents said they had a very positive view of GM, he said.

MILITARY INCENTIVES IN MAY

Akerson declined to talk about consumer incentives in its home U.S. market for May, other than an expansion of its discounts of $500 to $4,000 on most Chevrolet, Buick and GMC models for active U.S. military members to include their spouses and U.S. veterans and their spouses.

Also in May, active and retired military and their spouses will get a $750 discount if their new vehicles are financed through San Antonio-based USAA, which specializes in loans and insurance for the military and their families.

Akerson said that in the next few years, advances in technology and engineering will greatly increase fuel efficiency. U.S. government regulations will require that by 2016 each automaker's lineup averages 35.5 miles per gallon.

I think we're in the midst of an evolution over the next five to 10 years. I think the Volt is only a glimpse of what will come, Akerson said.

GM's work on the plug-in hybrid Volt has already given derivative benefits not unlike you saw with the space program, these gifts, if you will, because of this raw research into a new area, Akerson said.

He was referring to the inventions that came as side benefits of the U.S. space program since the 1960s, from freeze-dried ice cream to medical CAT scanners and kidney dialysis machines.

For GM, research on the Volt has led to the e-assist function it will put in new cars including the Buick LaCrosse and Regal. E-assist will be standard fare on most GM models within a few years, Akerson said.

E-assist uses a small lithium battery and an electric motor to assist the engine when accelerating or climbing hills.

Mid-size sedans that make 27 miles per gallon on the (highway) today will come this summer with a number that will be in the high 30s, so we're getting a 25-percent lift without sacrificing space or comfort or luxury, Akerson said.

(Writing by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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