LOS ANGELES — After years of massive losses, General Motors on Thursday posted its first annual profit since 2004.
The Detroit automaker said it earned $4.7 billion in 2010, compared with a loss of $21 billion incurred by the current GM and its pre-bankruptcy predecessor in 2009.
"Last year was one of foundation building," said Dan Akerson, GM's chief executive. "Particularly pleasing was that we demonstrated GM's ability to achieve sustainable profitability near the bottom of the U.S. industry cycle."
In the fourth quarter, GM said it swung to a profit of $510 million, compared with a loss of $3.5 billion in the same period a year earlier. Fourth-quarter revenue was $36.9 billion, and the company reported $135.6 billion in sales for the entire year.
One result of its profits is a big payout to employees. About 45,000 union workers are to receive bonuses of $4,300.
GM is rebounding with the economy. Its profits were made possible by a 2009 bankruptcy and government bailout. The restructuring allowed GM to slash debt, cut employment, reduce health expenses, rewrite union contracts, winnow out surplus factories and trim the cost of building a vehicle by several thousand dollars.
But the restructuring left U.S. taxpayers as the automaker's biggest shareholder. The federal government still owns a 27 percent stake of GM, when all of the outstanding options for shares held by various parties are included. Canada owns 7 percent.
"This is a good start. There is a lot more work to do; 2010 was clearly a good year for General Motors," Akerson said.
The fourth-quarter numbers represented "somewhat of a mixed bag," with the cost of new vehicle launches cutting into profits, said Brian Johnson, an analyst with Barclays Capital. But Johnson said he still believed GM's shares could reach $48. GM's shares have been trading below $35.
The company has benefited from a slew of recent hot-selling new models in the U.S., including the Chevrolet Cruze, the Buick LaCrosse and the Cadillac SRX SUV.
"While GM still has some work to do in terms of improving their product lineup, the current offer of GM vehicles is the most balanced and highest quality they have ever had," said Jesse Toprak, an analyst at TrueCar.com.
Last year, Chevrolet outsold the Toyota brand for the first time since 2007. The American brand sold almost 1.6 million vehicles last year, compared with 1.5 million for Toyota.
GM is also helped by its newfound ability to spend less on sales incentives and to exact higher prices for its vehicles.