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Leslie J. Allen

Automotive News | January 29, 2008 - 4:46 pm EST

DETROIT -- While debate continues in some quarters over whether General Motors or Toyota Motor Corp. is the world’s largest automaker by sales, GM’s CFO acknowledges that, from a money perspective, GM is not the largest.

“I don’t spend too much of my time trying to figure who’s the world’s largest automaker,” Henderson told members of the Automotive Press Association today.

“I just know this: In terms of what we have to do -- profits, cash flow, market cap -- we’re not the world’s largest automaker. That’s what I’m spending 100 percent of my time trying to figure out.”

GM reported last week that it sold 9.37 million vehicles in 2007. Several media outlets said GM had barely edged out Toyota to remain No. 1 in global sales.

But Automotive News calculated that GM sold 8.9 million vehicles in 2007 vs. 9.37 million for Toyota. The Automotive News figure excludes 516,435 vehicles sold under the Wuling brand in China.

GM does not own a majority of the company that produces Wuling vehicles.

In his address to the press association, Henderson stressed the importance of emerging markets to the automotive industry and to GM.

“The rest of the world is growing out there,” he said. That creates opportunities for companies that know how to manage growth effectively, Henderson said.

Five years ago, he said, GM sold less than 5,000 vehicles in Russia. Last year, it sold more than 250,000. In addition, China has joined GM’s “over-a-million-unit club,” Henderson said.

“As I look at these emerging markets, what happens five years from now or seven years from now, I can guarantee you, will be fundamentally different from what we see today,” he said. “We’re committed to making sure we earn more than our fair share of growth in these emerging but highly risky markets. We’ve done a good job historically.”

Henderson said GM’s financial strategy in the United States and Europe is to have sustainable profits and cash flow, while building its business aggressively in emerging markets.

“But those emerging markets can’t carry GM,” he said. “We’ve got to get the job done in all markets.”

Henderson said managing growth in emerging markets requires that GM be flexible, be able to harness the company’s global resources, set up good partnerships and develop products that appeal to different markets. GM also must move quickly and manage risks, such as currency fluctuations.

Henderson also said the U.S. economy in general is faring better than the financial markets. He said he doesn’t think the nation is in a recession, thanks to strength in certain sectors of the economy, such as exports.

Henderson said recent economic stimulus efforts are encouraging because they show that those who make policy recognize that some action has to be taken to bolster the economy.

He said China eventually will have at least one automaker that will rise to compete globally, but Henderson said China’s main focus is increasing domestic demand rather than exporting automobiles to the United States.

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