General Motors (NYSE:GM) had a good year in 2015, all things considered. While the stock didn't take off, GM reported solid earnings and strong sales of its most profitable products in both the U.S. and China.
Even better for investors with a longer-term perspective, CEO Mary Barra and her team continued to make good progress on their plan to significantly boost GM's earning power by early next decade.
Not everything went right for the General this year, as I noted on Wednesday. But there were plenty of high points for GM in 2015. Here are some that we looked at throughout the year.
Good profits on strong sales of trucks and SUVs
GM's first-quarter earnings missed analysts' estimates, as some trouble in South America offset good results in the U.S. But for much of the rest of the year, GM's bottom-line results were strong.
The story behind those strong results didn't change much as the year went on. Simply put, GM is selling a lot of high-profit products (SUVs and pickup trucks) in the U.S., in China, and to some extent in Europe as well. The result? Good profit margins.
That was true in the fourth quarter of 2014, as we noted in February.
General Motors Earnings Beats Expectations on Strong Truck Sales
It was true again after the second quarter of 2015. GM was able to make hay out of pickup rival Ford's (NYSE:F) slow ramp-up of production of its all-new F-150. GM's Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra combined for a nice market-share gain, and a big contribution to GM's bottom line.
General Motors Earnings: A Big Jump in Profits
There was another big factor at work for GM in the second quarter (and since then). A slowdown in China led many analysts to express concerns that GM's profits could be hit, but big sales of a new Buick SUV helped offset the loss in profits from sluggish car sales.
All of those factors contributed to another good result in the third quarter.
General Motors Earnings: Operating Profit Jumps on Strong Truck, SUV Sales
But now, with Ford's pickup factories back up to full speed, the game becomes a bit tougher. GM is rolling out an overhauled version of the Silverado for 2016, as well as some posh (read: highly profitable) new luxury trucks.
General Motors Seeks Profit Boost With New Posh Pickups
So far, though, GM hasn't had to resort to discounting to keep sales numbers strong. Its pricing was still very good last month.
A string of promising new-product introduction for GM in 2015
It was no secret that GM CEO Mary Barra planned to introduce the all-new-for-2016 Chevrolet Volt in Detroit in January. But a big secret was revealed when the new Volt's debut was followed, moments later, by the rollout of a completely new all-electric Chevy sedan.
GM says that the battery-electric Chevrolet Bolt will have about 200 miles of range and a price around $30,000 when it goes on sale. It's due to arrive at dealers late next year or early in 2017.
Will the Surprise Chevy Bolt Disrupt Tesla Motors?
GM rolled out two more important new products in New York in April. First up was the new full-size Cadillac sedan, the CT6. It looked to be a solid entry, but not a category-changing one. My Foolish colleague Rex Moore and I were on the scene when the CT6 was first revealed, and we thought that GM might have been a little too conservative with the big Caddy.
General Motors' Big New Cadillac CT6 Aims to Out-Handle the Germans
We had no such reservations about the other sedan that GM introduced at the New York International Auto Show. The all-new-for-2016 Chevrolet Malibu looked at first glance like a car that would give Toyota's (NYSE:TM) Camry some very stiff competition, an instant contender in the ultra-competitive midsize sedan segment. Months later, I haven't changed my mind.
Why Toyota and Ford Should Be Worried About General Motors' 2016 Chevrolet Malibu
GM hasn't quite shaken its reputation for iffy quality with some car-shoppers. But it has moved a long way way up the quality rankings. This year's edition of J.D. Power's Vehicle Dependability Study ranked Buick ahead of both Toyota and Honda (NYSE:HMC), and GM's other brands were not far behind.
How Did General Motors' Buick -- Yes, Buick -- Beat Toyota in Quality?
GM also picked up some praise for its fast-improving resale values, another reflection of the General's much-improved quality.
More good news as GM and the UAW struck a deal
Last but not least, GM and the United Auto Workers came to terms on a new four-year contract for GM's UAW-represented workers in the United States. It's a deal that gives workers some long-awaited raises, resolves a couple of big sore points -- and does so at a price that GM should be able to comfortably afford.
Workers voted to approve the deal, but a subset objected, as I noted on Nov. 16.
Why General Motors' New Deal With the UAW Hit a Snag
After some consideration, and some consultation with the "skilled tradespeople" who had voted against the deal, the UAW's leadership declared that the contract had passed after all. With luck, the new deal will give GM four more years of valuable labor peace in the United States. That will be very good for both workers and shareholders.