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GM pickup trucks for sale at a car dealership in Oshawa, Ont..

Carlos Osorio/Globe and Mail

General Motors Co. on Wednesday said the global semiconductor chip shortage could shave up to US$2-billion from 2021 profits, but the U.S. automaker’s highly profitable big pickups and SUVs won’t suffer any production cuts.

After reporting a fourth-quarter profit of US$2.8-billion and a 2021 profit outlook some saw as conservative, GM shares were down 4.5 per cent in early trading.

Chief executive officer Mary Barra, in a media briefing, said GM “won’t lose any production” of its high-profit full-size pickup trucks and SUVs, although the supply of computer chips “is still a bit fluid.”

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However, she added, “we’re going to be able to meet the production schedules” for the year. GM officials have repeatedly stressed they will protect production of its highest profit vehicles.

U.S. rival Ford Motor Co. previously said it lost some production of its high-profit, top-selling F-150 pickup truck.

On Tuesday, GM extended production cuts at three North American plants and said it would partially build and later finish assembling vehicles at two other factories due to the chip shortage.

GM expects the shortage to trim US$1.5-billion to US$2-billion from its 2021 operating profit, or up to about 90 U.S. cents a share.

Including that hit, it forecast a profit this year of US$4.50 to US$5.25 a share. Analysts had expected US$5.89 according to Refinitiv data, but that did not account for the chip hit.

“While some may focus on a guidance, which is optically soft versus consensus due to semi shortage impact, we ultimately believe investors should look through it,” Credit Suisse analyst Dan Levy said in a research note.

The global chip shortage also will have a short-term impact on production and cash flow, GM said.

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Asked whether GM would invest in a chipmaker to secure supplies, Ms. Barra said the automaker is always looking at what to integrate into its operations. She added, however, that taking a stake in a semiconductor company was a longer-term solution the company would evaluate.

GM said it expects to accelerate spending on electric and autonomous vehicles in 2021. Projected capital expenditures this year are US$9-billion to US$10-billion, including more than US$7-billion for EVs and AVs.

Investors and Wall Street have increasingly focused on GM’s strategy to roll out electric vehicles rather than quarterly results, and the stock has responded to the company’s announcements around increased and accelerated EV spending.

GM earned US$2.8-billion, or US$1.93 a share, in the fourth quarter, compared with a loss of US$194-million, or 16 U.S. cents a share, in the prior year.

The company ended the year with US$22.3-billion in cash and US$40.5-billion in total liquidity, including untapped credit lines.

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