General Motors Corp. yesterday reported 1984 earnings of $4.5 billion -- more money than the company made in any single year in its 76-year history.
The record profits have a per-share value of $14.22, up from $11.84 per share on earnings of $3.7 billion in 1983.
"You can't really complain about those figures," said David Healy, an auto industry analyst with New York-based Drexel Burnham Lambert. "But still, it's a little disappointing. Actually, they earned a great deal less than they were expected to earn at the beginning of the calendar year."
Strikes in the United States, Canada and West Germany trimmed $450 million from GM's net income last year, company officials said.
The record profit report is expected to intensify the congressional debate over quotas limiting the export of Japanese passenger cars, vans and station wagons to the United States. Ford and Chrysler are scheduled to report their fourth-quarter earnings next week.
Those quotas, in effect annually since April 1, 1981, are scheduled to expire March 31. Proponents say that they are needed to compensate for lack of U.S. access to Japanese car and auto parts markets, and to protect American jobs and the domestic car companies' market shares on the home front.
Opponents argue that the quotas are benefiting no one except the U.S. auto companies.
Total domestic auto industry profits for 1984 are expected to reach $10 billion, up from $6.3 billion last year, according to published industry reports. Quota opponents contend that much of that profit will be a windfall from the restraints, which currently limit the shipment of Japanese cars to this country to 1.85 million units a year.
Ironically, GM stands alone among domestic auto makers in opposing the quotas, largely because they are hurting GM's plans to import as many as 300,000, high-profit, high-quality small cars annually from its Japanese partners Suzuki Motor Co. Ltd. and Isuzu Motors Ltd.
GM, the nation's biggest auto maker, also yesterday announced the appointment of William E. Hoglund as president of Saturn, in which GM will invest $5 billion over the next five years.
Hoglund, a GM vice president and group executive in charge of the company's operating staffs since July 1984, succeeds Joseph J. Sanchez, who died last week as a result of heart failure.
GM's 1984 earnings from U.S. operations will provide profit-sharing funds totaling $282 million to be distributed among 547,000 employes. Healy said the U.S. workers would have gotten more had they not gone on strike.
"Some of those people might start complaining about what they get under profit sharing. But, if they think about it, they'll see that they would have gotten more if they had not hurt themselves by going out on strike," Healy said.
Profit-sharing payments based on last year's earnings will mean $515 for the average GM employe in the United States. That's down 15 percent from the average $606 cash award based on 1983 profits.
GM reported worldwide sales for 1984 of $83.9 billion, up from $74.6 billion a year earlier. The company reported fourth-quarter earnings of $877 million ($2.71), a 32.4 percent drop from the $1.3 billion ($4.11) earned by the company in the fourth quarter of 1983.