Yes, it’s easy to mock General Motors – Government Motors – even now, nearly eight years removed from bankruptcy. The stain of failure is hard to clean.

The 2017 Buick Encore.

But isn’t it time to cut GM a little slack? The GM of 2017 is most definitely not the GM of 2009, whose bankruptcy filing reported US$82.29 billion in assets and US$172.81 billion in debt. Ugh. What a tangled mess that GM was. Lousy cars, terrible marketing, pathetic quality, dull styling, no plan for Cadillac, a technology laggard, incompetent management…

This GM, the 2017 version, is hard to ignore for 10 million reasons – the number of GM vehicles sold worldwide last year. Revenue? In 2016, US$166 billion? Profit: US$9.4 billion and a profit margin of 7.5 per cent worldwide. All that while pushing back US$4.9 billion to shareholders through buybacks and dividends.

General Motors president Dan Ammann (center) with Lyft Inc. co-founders John Zimmer (right) and Logan Green (left)

GM remains an easy target for lazy comedy chasing cheap laughs. But there’s nothing funny about GM quality. Consumers Report recommends 12 GM models and Buick is a top-three brand. The Chevrolet Bolt EV is on its way to dealers and profit-spinning new crossovers are coming, among them the Chevrolet Equinox and Traverse and the GMC Terrain. They join the new GMC Acadia, Buick Envision and Cadillac XT5. GM launched 13 new models in 2016. The product plan calls for 18 more this year.

How did investors treat the good news? Shares tanked more than five per cent. Investors don’t like the cyclical nature of auto stocks and border tax concerns are a worry now a protectionist-in-chief Tweets from the White House.

No love for GM yet, even though Cadillac retail sales were up nearly 46 per cent for the year. GM remains tarnished, despite efforts to transform into something much more than a pickup and SUV company:

  • The Maven mobility brand is up and running and growing. Maven is teaching GM how to become a transportation service provider, not just a car company;
  • Maven’s Express Drive program for Lyft drivers has about 5,000 vehicles, with 100 Bolt EVs planned for California;
  • Cruise Automation is GM autonomous driving initiative, now testing more than 40 autonomous Bolt EVs on public roads in three cities;
  • OnStar has nearly 12 million connected vehicles on the road globally.

Chevrolet Malibu: selling well and winning awards.

GM, folks, is a solid company, one with a vision for sustainable growth. There is no “fake news” in the latest results, no “alternative facts.” GM is just a solid business.

Yet GM’s stock is up a measly 6.0 per cent since its post-bankruptcy IPO (initial public offering), while the S&P 500 is up a whopping 95 per cent. If you bought an exchange traded S&P fund, you’ve doubled your money in the time GM delivered chump change. Is there a fix for this?

GM CEO Mary Barra said “yes” while talking to analysts and investors. But that doesn’t mean there’s a quick fix to juice shares.

Instead, she said GM will buckle up and knuckle down. The hard work will produce real results.

2016 Buick Envision Front

“We believe and we’ve got a track record of demonstrating performance and meeting our commitments for three years now. We’re going to continue to do that with our outlook for 2017. We’ve identified how we can continue to make this business better,” she said.

That means focusing on the basics of make good, reliable vehicles that people want while building a future transportation services business. Connectivity is part of that, with OnStar the centerpiece. Electrification, too; the Bolt EV leadings the charge there.

GM also knows that autonomous vehicles – and related services – are in its future, beyond the basic business of building and selling cars, trucks and SUVs.

“And I think we’re well positioned,” said Barra. And that’s what we’re working hard on every day, because I think that will change the dialogue and change the calculus of how this company is valued.”

Perhaps someday.

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