GM offering more worker buyouts, could close more plants in 2008

General Motors held a conference with analysts today in which it outlined the automaker's turnaround progress and plans for 2008, the result of which is a press release (after the jump) that is the most boring piece of literature ever to be read. We tried, and were comatose by the first set of bullet points. Those who soldiered on, however, discovered that GM's cost-cutting plans for 2008 include offering worker buyouts to 46,000 eligible employees and potentially closing more facilities.
Follow the jump for the skinny on the details, as well as the official snooze-inducing press release from GM.

[Source: GM, The Detroit News]

The new worker buyouts are similar to those offered in 2006 when over 35,000 workers took the General up on its offer of early retirement. This new round of buyouts actually began last month when GM offered 5,200 of its workers incentives to retire, and will soon expand to the company's entire U.S. workforce, of which 46,000 out of 72,000 blue collar workers are eligible. Those who accept the buyouts will be gone with check in hand sometime in April.

The good news for GM is that it can hire new workers on a new "non-core" wage and benefit tier that was agreed upon in its new four-year contract with the UAW. These new workers will earn around $14/hour and get less expensive benefits than the ones they're replacing. Plus, those who are leaving to become retirees will have their health care benefits taken care of by an independent healthcare VEBA beginning in 2010. GM projects this two-prong strategy of hiring cheaper labor and unloading the responsibility of retiree health care costs onto a VEBA account will save it another $5 billion by 2011.

The General also announced that it could close more facilities in 2008, although you have to read between the lines in the press release to notice it. When GM talks about its strategy to "achieve manufacturing capacity utilization of 100 percent," that's a very detached and emotionless way to say that the company will keep closing plants until the ones that remain open can be kept sufficiently busy producing vehicles. We understand these things have to be done, but we're big boys, you can say you're going to close a plant instead of telling us "additional capacity actions" might be needed. There was no mention of which plants might potentially close, just a reiteration that the company was prepared to start locking doors if industry volume levels continued to tank.


GM Details its Turnaround Progress and Outlines 2008 Priorities

  • Next phase of special attrition program to be launched in February
  • U.S. labor agreement to yield additional savings of $5 billion by 2011
  • New automotive structural cost target of 23 percent of revenue by 2012
  • GM expects continued growth in emerging markets

DETROIT – General Motors Corp. (NYSE: GM) Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner and Vice Chairman and CFO Fritz Henderson spoke to automotive analysts at a GM conference today, giving detailed reviews of the company's turnaround progress, outlining the automaker's priorities for the year and providing a preview of improvement opportunities for 2010 and beyond.

"We're delivering on the turnaround plan we established in 2005, and have exceeded expectations on virtually all counts," Wagoner said. "We've set a strong foundation that we can truly build on. We're encouraged by our progress in revitalizing our product portfolio, strengthening our brands, reducing structural cost and growing the business globally. At the same time, it's clear that we'll face some challenging headwinds in 2008.

"To continue driving the company's transformation, we'll remain steadfast in our efforts to introduce great cars and trucks and new advanced propulsion technologies, take full advantage of growth markets around the world, and accelerate our efforts to reduce structural costs to even more competitive levels in North America," Wagoner added.

Turnaround Progress
Since introducing its North America turnaround plan in 2005, GM has delivered significant progress in its massive restructuring, including:

  • Product excellence – Dramatically improved vehicle design and performance is gaining broad recognition, demonstrated by robust sales of recently launched vehicles and numerous industry awards, including 2008 North America Car of the Year for the Chevrolet Malibu, 2008 Motor Trend Car of the Year for the Cadillac CTS, and 2007 North America Car and Truck of the Year awards for the Saturn Aura and Chevrolet Silverado;
  • Revitalize the sales and marketing strategy – The company has fundamentally changed its "go to market" approach, resulting in stronger brands, re-alignment of its brand distribution channels, stabilized retail market share, significant reductions in daily rental sales and higher average transaction prices;
  • Intensify the focus on cost and quality – GM reduced annual structural cost in North America from 2005 to 2007 by $9 billion, driven by the 2005 hourly healthcare agreement, revisions to U.S. salaried healthcare and pension programs, capacity reduction actions, special attrition programs for 34,000 hourly employees, and efficiencies achieved in other activities. Significant improvements also continue to be made in vehicle quality, as measured by both internal and industry metrics;
  • Address healthcare/legacy cost burden – Reflecting the impact of historical agreements with the United Auto Workers union (UAW) and several other key initiatives, GM anticipates that its spending on U.S. hourly and salaried pension and healthcare will be reduced from an average of $7 billion per year over the last 15 years, to approximately $1 billion per year beginning in 2010.
  • Despite continued pressures in the German market, GM has also made significant progress in its Europe (GME) operations, driven by strong new products, successful implementation of its multi-brand strategy, especially the rapid growth of the Chevrolet brand, which contributed to record GME unit sales of over 2 million in 2007. Rapid expansion in Russia and Eastern Europe, and further structural cost reductions have also contributed to the improvements.

GM's total automotive results have demonstrated strong progress since 2005, marked by significant improvements in both adjusted net income and adjusted operating cash flow through the first three quarters of 2007. GM continues to have strong liquidity, with 2007 year-end gross liquidity estimated to be more than $27 billion, up from $20.4 billion at year-end 2005.

2008 Outlook

Acknowledging headwinds facing the industry, including weak U.S. auto industry sales volumes, high fuel prices, high commodity and steel prices, and mounting regulatory requirements, Wagoner outlined the following focus areas for 2008 designed to continue the momentum and achieve improved financial results:

  • Continue to execute great products
  • Build strong brands and distribution channels
  • Execute additional cost reduction initiatives
  • Take full advantage of growth in emerging markets
  • Build GM's advanced propulsion leadership position
  • Maximize the benefits of running the business globally
For 2008, GM projects global industry volume to reach a record high of approximately 73 million units, up from about 71 million in 2007, with growth in Asia Pacific, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East and Europe. GM anticipates U.S. industry sales will likely be in the low 16-million range, reflecting continuing high fuel prices and sub-par consumer confidence. Despite industry pressures, GM expects to increase revenues in all of its regions, particularly in emerging markets.

Building on notable product successes including the Cadillac CTS, Chevrolet Malibu, GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook and Buick Enclave in the U.S. and the Opel Corsa in Europe, GM will continue to introduce a host of new products including the Pontiac G8 and Chevrolet Traverse in the U.S. and Opel Insignia in Europe. Capital spending is projected to be up slightly from 2007 levels to about $8 billion in 2008.

On the sales and marketing front, GM will continue its efforts – most clearly demonstrated in the recent launch of the Chevy Malibu in the U.S. – to more effectively integrate product and brand marketing strategies. GM will accelerate the alignment of its seven U.S. brands into four distinct dealer channels: Chevrolet, Saturn, Buick/Pontiac/GMC and Cadillac/Hummer/SAAB. By doing this, the company expects to enhance dealer profitability and over time facilitate more highly differentiated products and brands.

With regard to cost competitiveness, GM has made major strides toward achieving its global target of reducing automotive structural costs to benchmark levels of 25 percent of revenue by 2010. Structural costs are already below 30 percent, compared to 34 percent in 2005, despite weaker than expected U.S. industry volumes. In light of the progress already made, the company fully expects structural costs as a percentage of revenue to be further reduced beyond 2010, with a target of 23 percent by 2012.

In support of those goals, the company plans to reduce annual U.S. labor costs by an additional estimated $5 billion by 2011. A significant portion of those reductions will be driven by the implementation of the 2007 GM-UAW contract, including the independent healthcare VEBA scheduled to begin in 2010, and in the shorter term by taking full advantage of the workforce restructuring opportunities included in the contract, including a "non-core" wage and benefit structure which will result in the re-classification of a significant number of jobs over time.

To facilitate these changes, GM launched, in cooperation with the UAW, the first phase of a voluntary special attrition program for hourly workers in January 2008. This phase applies to those at select job banks, Service Parts Operations (SPO), and other key sites. Employees participating in this phase will begin to exit in March. GM announced today that Phase 2 of the program, under active discussion with the UAW, will be launched in February in all other plants. Participating employees will begin exiting in April. For both phases of the program, 46,000 existing employees are eligible for retirement.

During the conference, GM also reiterated its strategy to achieve manufacturing capacity utilization of 100 percent, or greater, in countries with higher labor costs. Based on current U.S. industry volume levels, additional capacity actions would be required in vehicle assembly, stamping and powertrain facilities. The company will continue to assess U.S. industry and product mix trends, and what potential actions may be required over the coming months.

GM will continue its aggressive plans to grow in emerging markets such as China, Brazil, Russia and India. To strengthen its position in China, where it was the first automaker to sell 1 million units in a single year, GM intends to continue to build its corporate reputation, expand its product portfolio with fuel-efficient products, drive full implementation of its multi-brand strategy, expand capacity, and develop our local supply base and technology capability.

At GMAC Financial Services, while its mortgage business faces continued challenges relating to weaknesses in the housing and credit markets, its auto financing business remains profitable and its insurance operations continue to perform well. GMAC expects Residential Capital, LLC (ResCap) to meet its year-end 2007 financial covenants, and GM believes GMAC remains adequately capitalized. In addition, GMAC's liquidity position is at relatively high historical levels and GMAC expects to be profitable in 2008, with substantially reduced losses at ResCap due to risk mitigation actions undertaken by the company.

Looking ahead to 2010

Looking ahead, GM expects continued cost savings and improved automotive pre-tax earnings by 2010, compared to 2007 levels, driven by a number of factors.

The most significant savings is the estimated $4-5 billion GM expects to gain in 2010 once it realizes the full-impact of the 2007 GM-UAW labor agreement related to the shift of U.S. hourly health care to an independent VEBA, and takes advantage of favorable labor demographics to adjust workforce levels and transition a portion of the workforce to the new non-core wage structure.

In addition, GM will reduce the cost premiums it has historically paid to Delphi for systems, components and parts by approximately $1 billion by 2010. Those savings will be offset by various labor and transitional subsidies of $400-500 million under Delphi's proposed reorganization, resulting in net savings of approximately $500 million.

GM also sees the probability of a stronger U.S. industry in 2009 and beyond, as compared to the relatively low 16.5 million total industry in 2007. All indications are that 16.5 million units are approximately 1 million units below trend. It is estimated that a move of the industry back to trend levels by 2010 would generate additional pre-tax income to GM in the range of approximately $1 billion to $1.5 billion annually.

Beyond these factors, there are a number of additional opportunities to further improve GM earnings and cash flow by 2010, though they are more difficult to predict with specificity. These include: additional material cost reductions due to continued leveraging of global vehicle architectures, improved pricing driven by compelling designs and stronger brands, continued explosive growth in revenue and profitability in emerging markets, and improved performance at GMAC. At the same time, continued U.S. industry product mix deterioration, regulatory cost increases and the ongoing competitiveness of the marketplace pose potential risks to GM's profitability.

Considering the foregoing, GM management expects to significantly improve operating results, including earnings and cash flow, over the next two to three years.

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