Automakers across the globe had a tough start to the year, having to deal with parts shortages following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. But the rise in oil prices following the Libyan uprising has indirectly helped some of these automakers by pushing up the demand for their more fuel-efficient hybrid cars.

General Motors (NYSE: GM) was in the green for a fifth consecutive quarter at the start of this year. It also saw its profits triple compared with the prior-year quarter. Yet investors weren't fully convinced and GM saw its share prices drop after it announced its earnings. Why?

A brief look at the numbers
The demand for more fuel-efficient cars benefited GM by pushing up both its top and bottom lines. Cars such as the Chevrolet Cruze compact and the Equinox crossover were in great demand, following bullish strides in energy prices.

GM recorded profits of $3.2 billion, but this included a $1.6 billion profit from the sale of assets. GM sold a part of its former parts wing, Delphi Automotive LLC, which boosted these figures greatly. Discounting these gains, from its operations GM made profits of around $1.7 billion, which is not bad in itself, but somewhat pales in comparison to rival Ford's (NYSE: F) first-quarter profits of nearly $2.5 billion.

Price wars
On the negative side, GM's automobile prices dropped in North America, whereas they remained the same in international markets; Ford's auto prices have been rising. Even though GM had high sales compared to that of Ford, it lost out because of lower prices, leading to Ford recording higher profits.

This probably explains why GM saw its share prices fall in response to its earnings, even though it beat analysts' estimates. Regardless, GM, which had a relatively strong start to the year, is well-placed to carry this momentum forward. Let's take a look at its plans for the rest of 2011.

The industry grows
In spite of the recent economic slump, the global automobile industry has still shown positive signs of growth. Some analysts have even said that they expect this market to grow by nearly 33% by 2015, from 72 million units in 2010. GM has a strong and ever-increasing international presence and is well-positioned to take advantage of this expected boom.

The BRIC nations are expected to see an increase of nearly 12 million vehicles sold by 2015, as purchasing powers of consumers increase, pushing up demand. By the end of 2010, GM held a leading 12.2% market share in the BRIC countries. It has held on to the top spot for a sixth straight year.  

International operations
China is now the favorite among those eyeing emerging markets, and automobile producers are no exception. China has become the world's largest automotive market. GM has penetrated this market and commands a 12.8% market share there. It intends to launch 60 new and improved variants of its automobiles in China by 2015.

Japan's two top automakers have already made inroads into China. Honda (NYSE: HMC) plans to produce electric vehicles there by next year whereas Toyota (NYSE: TM), the leading car manufacturer in the world, is looking to double its auto sales there by 2015.

In India, GM saw its volume increase by almost 60% last year and also saw an increase in its market share in the country. In Brazil, GM rules the roost with a market share of 19%. In North America, GM ended 2010 as market leader.

Overall, across the globe, GM has a strong presence and is looking to expand even further, especially in the BRIC countries where strong sales growth is expected.

The Foolish bottom line
I think GM is well-positioned to grow further in 2011, especially with Toyota and Honda scrambling for parts following the March 11 quake, and the rise in demand for fuel-efficient cars following the surge in gas prices. GM will, in all probability, grow as the year continues and will possibly continue to post numbers in the green.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.