24 February 2010

Saab Deal On, Hummer Deal Off

General Motors announced today that an effort to sell its Hummer brand to a Chinese company has failed and that it will simply be shutting down the brand.

The commercial market for the Hummer brand dwindled as combinations of greater concern about fuel efficiency and tight consumer spending dwindled. An uncertain future killed what was left of the brand:

Saturn, Pontiac, Saab and HUMMER combined volumes represented 1.2 percent of total [GM U.S.] sales in January, compared with 12 percent in May 2009. Inventories for the combined brands totaled 4,212 units at January month-end, representing a 96 percent decrease compared to the end of May 2009 (112,141 units).

A 1.2% figure amounts to about 2,500 vehicles a month for the four brands combined. There were 2,493 Hummers in inventory at the end of January 2010.

The U.S. military has also discontinued its Humvee purchases this year in favor of new better armored and more bombproof vehicles; the Defense business was sold in 2003 to defense contractor General Dynamics.

The initial Hummer in 1992 had been a civilian version of the military model (GM bought the brand in 1998). Later models migrated towards civilian SUVs and large pickups. The Hummer brand had a component of patriotism tied up in its status (like Jeep's) as a military spinoff, which a Chinese company might not have been able to maintain with this niche product. (It will continue to honor warranties for existing Hummer's, a liaiblity assumed in the bankruptcy by the reorganized company.)

But, earlier this week, GM announced that it appeared that a sale of its Saab division, which has been on again, off again, was going to close. An earlier effort to sell the Saturn brand also failed so it is being shut down. GM discontinued the Pontiac brand without any effort to sell the brand.

This leaves GM with four remaining core U.S. brands: Chevrolet, GMC, Cadillac and Buick. It has also shed GMAC, its financing arm.

GM also has four more brands used abroad: GMDaewoo (70.1%), Holden, Opel, and Vauxhall. Opel/Vauxhall's fate is currently being negotiated (Vauxhall makes right hand driver's seat versions of Opel model for the U.K. market); it may be spun off or sold. Holden is the Australian based subsidiary of GM and also is the direct parent company of South Korean based GMDaewoo.

GM has yet to show a turn around despite its 2009 bankruptcy, and weakness in Toyota, a key competitor, due to recalls. GM continues to lose market share, have poor sales and lose money. But, the most recent detailed sales figures have revealed that much of its declining sales are now concentrated in discontinued or spun off brands, rather than in the core brands that it is retaining.

The bankruptcy has made it less important for GM to emphasize sales volume over profits, because it has far fewer fixed legacy costs like bond payments and retirement obligations that are lower per vehicle sold when sales are high. But, since it is now majority owned by government and unions, both of which are concerned primarily about preserving as many jobs as possible, GM's owners may not be interested in a strategy that calls for downsizing in the name of higher profitability per vehicle sold.

General Motors sold about 60% fewer vehicles in 2009 overall than it did in 1999 in the United States, and sales declined over prior year sales in every year from 2000 through 2009.

1999-- 5,017,150
2000-- 4,953,163 ▼1.3%
2001-- 4,904,015 ▼1.0%
2002-- 4,858,705 ▼0.9%
2003-- 4,756,403 ▼2.1%
2004-- 4,707,416 ▼1.0%
2005-- 4,517,730 ▼4.0%
2006-- 4,124,645 ▼8.7%
2007-- 3,866,620 ▼6.3%
2008-- 2,980,688 ▼22.9%
2009-- 2,084,492 ▼30.1%

Ford appears to have turned the corner without either a bankruptcy or a government bailout.

Chrysler, in contrast, while continuing to show success in selling the minivans that it invented and some of the vehicles in its Jeep line, has not shown positive sales trends in most of its other lines and is experiencing 40+ year low sales, despite being free of legacy costs, despite having Fiat as a business partner, and despite the weakness of GM and Toyota in the market. Chrysler seems to be the furthest of the Big Three automakers from a recovery.

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