GM CEO Barra says the automaker is watching China trade 'very carefully'

  • While Ford and other automakers have reported trouble in China this quarter, it was a bright spot for GM.
  • The company reported record third-quarter "equity income" in the country, led by a 4 percent increase in Cadillac sales there.
  • At the same time, sales in the country were down 15 percent over the same quarter last year, and there are signs of trouble in the region.
General Motors Chairman & CEO Mary Barra (L) and President of General Motors China Matt Tsien attend a press conference in Shanghai, China September 15, 2017.
General Motors Chairman & CEO Mary Barra (L) and President of General Motors China Matt Tsien attend a press conference in Shanghai, China September 15, 2017.

General Motors is keeping a close eye on China, CEO Mary Barra said Wednesday.

GM said its luxury brand Cadillac had record sales in China despite an ongoing trade war that's raised prices on steel and aluminum as well as on the vehicles themselves.

"We're watching it carefully and we're very hopeful that both sides will have dialogue and get to the table to work through some very important issues that both China and the United States have as it relates to trade," Barra told analysts on a conference call Wednesday discussing GM's third-quarter earnings. "When we look at our positioning, we have many levers that we can pull to continue to have strong performance in China."

While Ford and other automakers have reported trouble in China for the third quarter, it was a bright spot for GM.

The company reported record third-quarter "equity income" in the country, led by a 4 percent increase in Cadillac sales there. GM uses equity income to measure its performance in the region since the company follows the standard industry practice of selling its vehicles through a joint venture with Chinese manufacturer SAIC. Each company owns a 50 percent stake in the venture.

Barra told analysts the partnership has served GM well.

"I think we have the strongest partner in China with SAIC," she said.

"At this time we are not looking to change the 50-50 structure," Barra added. "It has served us well, and I think the strength of our results demonstrate that."

But at the same time, sales in the country were down 15 percent over the same quarter last year, and there are signs of trouble in the region. A recent report from Bloomberg said the Chinese government is considering a cut to taxes on auto purchases to revive flagging sales.

GM said it was able to charge more for cars during the quarter and the declines came from less its profitable segments. It also said that sales of its luxury vehicles were up.