[THE INVESTOR] Persistent rumors of struggling GM Korea leaving the country seemed closer to reality Tuesday upon comments by General Motors CEO Mary Barra who said the automaker would have to “take action” in Korea against challenging costs.
“Clearly, Korea is a challenge for us,” Barra said during a conference call with analysts on Tuesday.
“The Chevrolet brand has done well, but the current cost structure has become challenging, and we’re going to have to take action going forward to have a viable business,” said the chief of the US auto giant, which has maintained a “profit-first” policy.
GM exited from Europe and India, ended vehicle production in Australia and Indonesia, and sold its underperforming European brand Opel to PSA Group last August, as part of its global restructuring efforts that began in 2013.
Barra added that GM’s future plans “may result in some rationalization actions or restructuring that potentially could have a material impact on our results, but it’s too soon to tell right now.”
The head of GM Korea Kaher Kazem, who came into office September last year, has so far denied the rumors of withdrawal, reiterating the importance of the local unit.
But measures taken by the firm have continued to fan speculations, such as when GM Korea recently sent a notice to suppliers to say it would not receive parts from Jan. 8 to April 23 due to adjustments in production at its Gunsan factory in North Jeolla Province.
This had followed a monthlong halt from Dec. 22 last year to last month for equipment checks.
Operation at the Gunsan factory has gradually dropped to about 20 percent after GM pulled out the Chevrolet brand from Europe in 2013.
Some 200,000 vehicles shipped to Europe annually were produced here.
GM Korea sold 132,377 units here and shipped 392,170 units last year, amounting to 524,547 units, down 12.2 percent on-year, the company said.
The company’s net losses rose to 631.5 billion won (US$580.9 million) in 2016 from 333.2 billion in 2014, according to the Financial Supervisory Service’s data analysis retrieval and transfer system.
“GM Korea is continuing a wide range of discussions with its business partners to further improve its competitiveness and cost base. Our goal is a profitable and viable future for GM Korea,” the company said, while declining to comment on Barra’s remarks.
By Kim Bo-gyung/The Korea Herald (firstname.lastname@example.org)