ACME, Mich. —General Motors CEO Ed Whitacre said Thursday that while an initial public offering filing isn't likely in the next few weeks, he is eager for the government to sell its shares to investors.
GM, the largest U.S. automaker, is preparing to file a registration statement for an IPO this month so the stock sale could be held by November, people familiar with the matter have said. When asked Thursday whether he expects a filing within a couple of weeks, he replied: "No, I don't." Whitacre said it could be the biggest IPO ever.
The automaker is 61 percent owned by the federal government, which would sell a fifth of its stake in the initial offering and reduce its ownership to less than half, people said. Cutting or eliminating the government's stake will help with employee morale and sales, Whitacre said.
"We don't like this label of Government Motors," he said in a question-and-answer session after his speech, which closed a four-day automotive conference in Acme, Mich. "We know it turns off customers. It turns us off."
Whitacre told reporters Thursday that it doesn't matter whether the IPO is held before the mid-term elections Nov. 2.
"I don't think that's really a factor," he said. "Everybody would like to make it that, but I don't think that's really a factor."
Steve Girsky, a GM vice chairman, declined to comment on whether GM could still hold an IPO this year.
"There are factors that go into this, one of which is our performance, the other of which is the market performance," he said. "One of which we control, the other of which we don't."
In May, GM reported first-quarter net income of $865 million, helped by higher production and smaller discounts. Whitacre said second-quarter results will be "impressive."
"If you liked our first-quarter earnings, stay tuned for our results next week," he said in the speech.
Whitacre was making his first appearance at the Center for Automotive Research's annual conference. He repeated a theme this week that the auto industry had come a long way in a year.
Separately, GM said Thursday that it has concluded the dealer arbitration process and that it will have a network of about 4,500 U.S. dealerships by Nov. 1. In June 2009, GM had 6,049 dealerships selling eight brands.
A successful IPO for GM would gauge the market's interest in auto-related companies, said John Corey, CEO of Stoneridge, a Warren, Ohio-based supplier of electrical components for cars, trucks and farm equipment. Corey is chairman of the Original Equipment Suppliers Association, a Troy, Mich.-based trade group.
"I hope GM has a successful IPO because it shows people are willing to lend back into the industry," he said. "We have to demonstrate we can return our cost of capital, that we can return investment to the shareholders."