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GM's Market Share at a 90-Year Low, So Why Is Optimism So High?

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GM building

When you see the following stat, what’s your reaction?

GM’s share of the U.S. market in the first quarter was 17.5%, its lowest level since 1922.

Does that make you think the world’s largest auto maker is just slipping again? Or do you shrug your shoulders and say, “OK, but the company is more profitable than ever before, so I can live with smaller share”?

Morgan Stanley analysts Adam Jonas, Ravi Shanker, and Yejay Ying are in the group that’s not worried. In their opinion GM’s smaller share is not a concern for four reasons:

  1. Pricing is strong with average transaction prices up 3.4% to a record high.
  2. GM will be refreshing 80% of its U.S. line-up by 2014 - more than any other auto maker.
  3. GM’s retail sales (much more profitable and important) are outpacing fleet sales.
  4. GM sales in the hottest auto segments (crossover, small car) are at multi-year highs.

Bottom line: Morgan Stanley likes the way GM is transitioning towards becoming an auto maker focused on growing profits instead of just scrambling to hang on to market share for the sake of having market share.

Doe any of this matter to car buyers or investors? So far it hasn’t resonated, despite GM posting record profits last year.

The extremists will never change their opinions of GM . There will always be fans of the auto maker who overreact at the slightest negative headline. Just as there will be GM bashers who refuse to see any of the positive steps the company has taken since leaving bankruptcy. I know because I hear from both sides every day, and their e-mails completely skewing the news of the day provide a good chuckle.

But as we go through the rest of this year, it will be interesting to see how investors react if GM’s market share continues to shrink. Even more interesting will be watching the stock price if GM continues to grow the bottom line. In theory, the stock should move higher. But as we’ve come to learn about the new GM, nothing about the market’s reaction to this stock is normal.

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CORRECTION/UPDATE: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect headline misstating information about GM's shares. This was an editor's error and has been corrected.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.comand Follow me on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews

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