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Whitacre Says GM Eager to End ‘Government Motors’ Tag

Whitacre Says GM Eager for IPO
"We don't like this label of Government Motors," General Motors CEO Ed Whitacre said. Photographer: Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg

General Motors Co. Chief Executive Officer Ed Whitacre said while an initial public offering filing isn’t likely in the next few weeks, he is eager for the U.S. to sell its shares to investors.

GM, the largest U.S. automaker, is preparing to file a registration statement for an IPO this month so the stock sale could be held by November, people familiar with the matter have said. When asked today whether he expects a filing within a couple of weeks, he replied: “No, I don’t.”

The automaker is 61 percent owned by the U.S., which would sell a fifth of its stake in the initial offering and reduce its ownership to less than half, people said. Whitacre said it could be the biggest IPO ever. Cutting or eliminating the government’s stake will help with employee morale and sales, Whitacre said.

“We don’t like this label of Government Motors,” he said in a question-and-answer session after his speech, which closed a four-day automotive conference in Acme, Michigan. “We know it turns off customers. It turns us off.”

Whitacre told reporters today that it doesn’t matter whether the IPO is held before the mid-term elections Nov. 2.

“I don’t think that’s really a factor,” he said. “Everybody would like to make it that, but I don’t think that’s really a factor.”

Market Watching

Steve Girsky, a GM vice chairman, declined to comment on whether GM could still hold an IPO this year.

“There are factors that go into this, one of which is our performance, the other of which is the market performance,” he said. “One of which we control, the other of which we don’t.”

In May, GM reported first-quarter net income of $865 million, helped by higher production and smaller discounts. Whitacre said today second-quarter results will be “impressive.”

“If you liked our first-quarter earnings, stay tuned for our results next week,” he said in the speech.

While people familiar with the planning have said that a fraction of GM shares would be sold in the initial offering, Whitacre said today that “our anticipation is we’d roll it out there all at once.”

Lori Arpin, a GM spokeswoman, later said the decision on when and how much equity to sell will be made by current stockholders. Owners include the Canadian government and the UAW’s retiree health-care trust.

Year of Change

Whitacre was making his first appearance at the Center for Automotive Research’s annual conference. He repeated a theme this week that the auto industry had come a long way in a year.

The company will return to advertising in the Super Bowl with its Chevrolet brand, said a spokesman, Pat Morrissey. Cadillac was a sponsor of the National Football League championship in recent years and awarded a new car or truck to the most valuable player, he said. The company stopped the practice this year after its bankruptcy.

Separately, GM said today it has concluded the dealer arbitration process and that it will have a network of about 4,500 U.S. dealerships by Nov 1. In June 2009, GM had 6,049 dealerships selling eight brands.

A successful IPO for GM, which would be the second in half a century after Tesla Motors Inc.’s offering in June, would gauge the market’s interest in auto-related companies, said John Corey, chief executive officer of Stoneridge Inc., a Warren, Ohio-based supplier of electrical components for cars, trucks and farm equipment. Corey is chairman of the Original Equipment Suppliers Association, a Troy, Michigan-based trade group.

Market Interest

“I hope GM has a successful IPO because it shows people are willing to lend back into the industry,” he said. “We have to demonstrate we can return our cost of capital, that we can return investment to the shareholders.”

Last year, Whitacre was invited to the conference and declined because he was new to the job. GM is selling more vehicles with four brands than it did last year with eight, Whitacre said today. He said the company plans to add hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles. The “appetite” for GM shares should be big, he said.

“I’d like to congratulate Chrysler and Ford for their progress during this period as well as the suppliers, who toughed it out with all of us,” he said in the speech. “At GM, we were pretty much flat on our backs a year ago. Now, we’re on our feet again, getting into fighting shape and taking the fight back to the marketplace.”

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