General Motors posts earnings of $1.39 a share vs $1.21 estimate

General Motors rode sales of SUVs and pickup trucks in North America to a record profit in 2015, and the automaker reaffirmed its expectation to do better this year despite signs that vehicle sales are hitting a peak.

GM, the biggest U.S. automaker and No. 3 globally by sales, earned $2.8 billion in the fourth quarter before interest, taxes and one-time items, or $1.39 per share, excluding items. Wall Street expected $1.21 per share, according to analysts polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Revenues were flat at $39.6 billion, it said on Wednesday.

GM affirmed an earlier forecast that it will increase earnings per share, excluding one-time items, to $5.25 to $5.75 this year, from $5.02 a share in 2015.

GM shares rose in premarket trading immediately following the announcement. (Get the market reaction here.)

New vehicles sit at a General Motors dealership
Bill Pugliano | Getty Images
New vehicles sit at a General Motors dealership

GM's earnings come as U.S. auto sales appeared to fare better-than-expected in January, according to early returns shown on Tuesday. As a whole, the industry benefited from low gasoline prices, easy credit and moderate economic growth. Those trends, which boosted sales in 2015, helped blunt the challenges of two fewer selling days and a massive East Coast snowstorm in January.

Still, auto company shares remain pressured as many Wall Street investors say the cyclical industry will soon plateau before a decline in several years.

Before General Motors announced its quarterly results, the company's stock had fallen nearly 14 percent year to date.

— Reuters contributed to this report.