GM’s Record Year Is Overshadowed By European Woes

Normally, everyone at GM would be celebrating. The automaker said Thursday that it earned $7.6 billion last year, the most ever, less than three years after receiving a federal bailout and going through bankruptcy protection.

GM is once again the world's biggest carmaker. Photo by Chris via Flickr.

But the 2011 performance masked a disappointing fourth quarter for the Detroit-based auto company. GM’S fourth-quarter profit was flat with 2010. It earned about $500 million, or 28 cents per share before special items.

With those charges accounted for, GM earned 40 cents per share, two cents below what analysts forecast. And the worst headache for GM came in Europe.

It lost more than half a billion dollars during the fourth quarter on its European operations, bringing their loss for the year to more than $700 million. The crisis is escalating: as recently as November, GM was saying it might break even in Europe.

GM has been working on a European restructuring for more than two years. It says its plan “did not go far enough. This is simply unacceptable,” the company said Thursday. GM wants to move “rapidly and decisively” there, and plans to work with European unions and countries in order to bring down its costs.

Due to the difficulties overseas, GM’s net income came primarily in North America. But there is some good news: its hourly workers in the United States will receive profit sharing checks of about $7,000 apiece.

NPR’s Sonari Glinton and I talked about what lies ahead for the auto industry on WBEZ’s Afternoon Shift with Steve Edwards on Tuesday. Listen to that lively conversation.

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