Losing its spot as the #1 auto maker in the world, Toyota (NYSE:TM), which held the previous title of world's largest automaker since 2008 and sold more than 8.4 million vehicles in 2010, lost its leading spot to General Motors (NYSE:GM) in 2011. General Motors emerged from bankruptcy and sold around 9.0 million units in 2011, with Germany's Volkswagen (VOW.XE) close behind taking selling place and selling 8.0 million vehicles, sending Toyota back to third place with only 7.35 million vehicles sold the same year.
Despite the economic crisis in Europe, Volkswagen (OTCQX:VLKAY) was still able to capture a significant market share from its rivals due to its impressive product lineup. Shares saw an all-time high after the auto maker posted better than expected revenue for the first quarter and confirmed that the company was expecting even better full-year results, despite a weaker economy and market and the fact the competition in the Western European market is getting stronger and stronger, according to Martin Winterkorn, VW's Chief Executive. In fact, reports show that fellow German manufacturers BMW-which Audi surpassed in sales-and Daimler (OTCPK:DDAIF) are actually fairing far better than other manufacturers thanks to the each of the company's strong position in the luxury-car segment (Daimler owns Mercedes-Benz).
And now General Motors has plans of its own to return to the European market and these plans are looking quite profitable for the auto giant. With plans to produce cars where they sell them, currently, General Motor's plants in Europe are only operating at approximately 65% of their capacity, which is among the lowest in the region. You'd need to be operating at 80% capacity to make a profit, and in comparison, GM plants in the US operate at over 90% capacity, which is why it is doing so well in America. The UK is General Motor's second largest European market, only slightly behind Germany, GM's largest market share in Europe.
While exporting more Opels (around the 50,000 mark) outside of Europe is an option, it isn't a long-term solution. The plants are not being utilized fully as of yet, and once they are, GM's European presence will be a much stronger one, making GM even stronger in the auto industry on a worldwide level and not just in America. It looks like the losses its incurred from Europe in the last decade ($256 million this last quarter and around $14 billion in the last dozen years) are about to turn around thanks to Opel and Chevrolet. Opel won't only help sales in Europe, but the plan that is expected to help investment through to 2014 will help production in Europe and increase shipments to South America, the Middle East and Australia-all of which are markets that GM is currently lacking a strong presence in. And with GM announcing that it plans to invest $14.1 billion in new models in 2014, the future is looking quite bright.
The biggest push to get the European market and its production plants rolling is GM's announcement that is has plans of moving the Chevrolet from South Korea (where they are produced, marketed and sold) to Europe. This move can do wonders to the European financial market. By moving production to its European plants, GM hopes to increase sales and be able to reach a fast-growing target market with various Chevy models that appeal to the price-conscious buyer (in the current European market, and for the next couple of years, this will more than likely be the largest market in Europe). Opel alone, GM decided, would not be able to carry the European market through. However, with both Opel and Chevrolet in the equation targeting the right market, huge success for the largest automaker in the world is definitely on the horizon.
But are all European automakers doing well? Hardly. Fiat (FIATY.PK) announced that its losses in the EMEA region reached over $346 million, affecting its profit from Chrysler significantly. As for French makers Peugeot and Renault, both companies saw the affects of the economy and suffered a 7.3% and 9% drop respectively. Losses in the first quarter were due to a strong decline in European consumers purchasing new vehicles as a result of the recession that has affected some of the top countries in the EU and persistent sovereign-debt problems, especially in southern Europe.
There's been a worldwide decrease in demand for vehicles this year, resulting in a stockpile of vehicles in the world's largest auto markets. And yet, despite all that going on around it, General Motors has managed to avoid all heavy woes in its largest markets, namely China (GM controls 14% of its current 18.5 million vehicle market) and the US and now it's hoping to turn its luck around in Europe.
However, GM does not only have it sights on a stronger presence in Europe and realizes that demand for small-sized SUVs is at an all-time high. The Chevrolet Trax is GM's newest addition to its product line, and will be sold overseas in Mexico and Canada (a country known to love its SUVs) later this year. GM hasn't revealed any of the other markets it will be released in yet, but I'm thinking China will definitely be on the agenda and with China's current SUV demand this is excellent news for investors, as well as Europe at a later date. The Trax will not be sold in the US, because it would only be competing with the Chevrolet Equinox, which has already established itself as a strong-seller in America.
Offering consumers an SUV that is flexible in terms of comfortable size, fuel spent, eco-friendliness compared to other gas-guzzling SUVs, the Trax checks off all points that make it an excellent buy and a definite success that will do well for GM's end of year revenue.
Quickly moving into action, VW also announced that it will be building a factory in Mexico, which will be the first for the world's second largest auto manufacturer in North America. And to meet growing global demand, it will be launching a city-sized SUV to its product line-a move that many auto manufacturers are hopping on, but does the VW have a leg to stand on against General Motor's Chevrolet Trax? Only time will tell, but in the markets already listed (America, China, Mexico and Canada), GM is the clear dominator.
With higher second quarter results and an improvement in the European markets, I have no doubt in my mind that GM will see new heavily piqued interest from investors this year. I think this will push the stock toward $30 over the next 12 to 18 month period. GM is currently trading around $22.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.