GM CFO: This drove our big Q1 earnings beat

General Motors on Thursday reported first-quarter earnings and revenue that were much stronger than Wall Street expectations. The U.S. auto giant also reaffirmed its full-year outlook, which was raised in January.

GM Chief Financial Officer Chuck Stevens told CNBC's "Squawk Box" the strong start to 2016 is just the beginning. "We're even more confident we're going to achieve those objectives based on the start we've had in the first quarter."

"We also had $500 million of improved performance ... outside North America and China — better performance in South America, better performance in Europe," Stevens said. "We're confident that we're on the path to breakeven in Europe in 2016."

Shares of GM closed up 1.5 percent.

GM said excluding a one-time expense for litigation settlements, net income per share for the latest quarter was $1.26, well ahead of analyst estimates of $1.01. Adjusted earnings in the year-ago period were 86 cents a share.

Revenue for first-quarter 2016 rose nearly 4.5 percent to $37.3 billion, compared with expectations of $35.41 billion.

GM reaffirmed its forecast for full-year net income, adjusted to exclude certain one-time charges, in the range between $5.25 and $5.75 a share, up from $5.02 a share in 2015.

Overall, GM reported first-quarter earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) adjusted of $2.7 billion, compared with $2.1 billion in the period last year.

Meanwhile, GM North America reported first-quarter record EBIT-adjusted of $2.3 billion, including restructuring costs, compared with $2.2 billion in the first quarter of 2015.

GM Europe reported EBIT-adjusted breakeven results, compared with a $200 million loss in the first quarter of 2015.

GM International Operations reported EBIT-adjusted of $400 million, the same as first quarter 2015.

Stevens told CNBC auto sales for the industry overall grew 3 percent in the first quarter. While March was softer than expected, he said sales should remain strong this year due to wider credit availability, low interest rates and strong consumer balance sheets.

— Reuters contributed to this report.