By Ben Klayman and Joseph White
DETROIT (Reuters) – General Motors Co <GM.N> has watched with frustration and envy as the market value of electric carmaker Tesla Inc <TSLA.O> has ballooned to about two and a half times GM’s size, but on Wednesday the Detroit automaker made the case that its EV and self-driving technology strategy deserves a higher value.
GM Chief Executive Mary Barra and top executives hosted an investor conference in New York to convince potential shareholders GM is a burgeoning technology firm at the forefront of tomorrow’s electric and self-driving cars.
“We believe we’re a compelling investment opportunity,” GM Chief Financial Officer Dhivya Suryadevara told reporters after GM reported quarterly results, when asked about the run-up in Tesla’s stock.
“From a share-price standpoint, we’re very bullish on the future,” she added.
Barra has been restructuring GM’s operations and stressing her goals of readying GM for a future of “zero emissions and zero accidents” for several years.
Still, GM shares trade just above the $33 share price of its 2010 initial public offering. That has left it with a market capitalization of about $49 billion, below Tesla’s valuation of about $130 billion.
“The market’s got it wrong,” said Chris Susanin, co-portfolio manager with Levin Easterly Partners, which owns shares in GM but not Tesla. “GM should be the $150 billion market cap, not Tesla.”
The bulk of GM’s profits is still derived from the fuel-hungry pickup trucks and SUVs sold in the United States. The Chinese market has been the source of a steady $2 billion in profits a year, but that is threatened by a market slowdown, rising costs for electrification and now the disruption caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
While China will deliver lower equity income to GM in the near term, it remains a solid contributor that is profitable and dividend paying, and will play a key role in the development of EVs globally, officials said. GM also sees growth for its Cadillac brand in China.
‘HAVE OUR CAKE AND EAT IT TOO’
Barra’s challenge now is to assure investors that GM can make the leap across the gap separating its profitable internal combustion present and an uncertain electric future.
While gasoline-powered vehicles will make up a large portion of U.S. sales into the 2030s, GM has said it will spend more on developing electric vehicles than those with internal combustion engines over the next five years.
GM laid out a more detailed plan for the development of EVs and self-driving vehicles at the investor day, including its Cruise self-driving unit.
Some analysts have suggested GM should spin off Cruise, but Suryadevara said GM has no plans to do that. She added that spending in 2020 on that business will roughly match last year’s $800 million.
Cruise CEO Dan Ammann said the self-driving market opportunity totals $8 trillion.
One of the audiences for the investor day is potential employees as GM competes with Tesla and other automakers globally to hire top engineers and software developers outside of Detroit, highlighting technical centers in Ontario and Israel.
Barra, asked whether Tesla’s eventual electric pickup offering could squeeze GM’s margins, said her company understands that business. “I think we can have our cake and eat it too,” she said.
GM also said it will offer its Supercruise partially automated driving system on 22 models by the end of 2023, GM President Mark Reuss said.
GM also laid out its plan to reduce manufacturing complexity this year by eliminating 25% of the parts used in its plants. Barra also said GM targets sourcing all of its global electricity from renewable sources by 2040, a decade sooner than previously promised.
In December, GM and South Korea’s LG Chem <051910.KS> said they would invest $2.3 billion to build an EV battery cell joint venture plant in Ohio, creating one of the world’s largest battery facilities.
That same month, GM’s Cadillac chief said most if not all of the vehicles offered by the luxury brand would be electric by 2030.
GM said last week it would invest $2.2 billion in its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant to build electric trucks and SUVs.
(Reporting by Ben Klayman and Joseph White; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Andrea Ricci)