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DETROIT — It appears General Motors is taking care of its chief executive succession plan to have a solid team in place in preparation for its initial public offering.

Not long after reporting second-quarter net income of $1.3 billion on Thursday morning, GM revealed that Ed Whitacre is stepping down and being replaced in his chairman and chief executive officer posts by Daniel Akerson, who joined GM's board of directors in July 2009.

Akerson will take over the CEO role on Sept. 1, and will move into the chairman's position by year's end.

The news was announced at the end of GM's second-quarter conference call Thursday morning.

"This seems to be about the IPO. GM wants the issue of succession planning off the table," surmised Jeremy Anwyl, CEO of Edmunds.com.

The automaker was mum on any talk of an IPO during its quarterly conference call, stressing at the beginning of the discussion that it would not address the IPO or take any questions on this matter from media or financial analysts.

But several industry pundits felt this move puts GM closer to rolling out an IPO.

"While some may see this as a sign of further chaos in a company ripe with executive shuffling over the last 24 months, we see this as the next step toward a successful IPO," explained James Bell, executive market analyst with Kelley Blue Book's Kbb.com.

"Whitacre, at age 68, never intended to run GM for long and made it clear he was more of a temporary shepherd during these difficult days, albeit a shepherd with steel resolve and determination," Bell added.

Whitacre, who came on board as chairman in July 2009 and took over the CEO post on Dec. 1, stressed the company is headed in the right direction and that he feels "comfortable" that this is right time to make the move.

"My goal in coming to General Motors was to help restore profitability, build a strong market position, and position this iconic company for success," Whitacre indicated. "We are clearly on that path. A strong foundation is in place and I am comfortable with the timing of my decision."

Whitacre said during Thursday's call that he saw "no reason to delay" the move, later adding that Akerson is "absolutely the right choice."

New Sheriff in Town

Akerson's experience includes time as managing director at the Carlyle Group. He served as chairman and CEO at XO Communications and at Nextel, as well as at General Instrument Corp.

The chief-to-be didn't find it prudent to comment on what his plans would be for GM.

"GM is very fortunate that (Whitacre) came along when he did, and I am glad that he is staying on as chairman," Akerson said during Thursday's call. "He's still at the helm of the company, so at this point in time, I think it would be premature for me to discuss my plans or vision for the future of GM.

"That being said, it's probably fair to say that we — Ed and I — share a common vision of the goals and objectives for the company," he continued.

Though he told reporters he wanted to get his "feet on the ground" and gain a grasp on the day-to-day operations of GM before discussing the course of management personnel, when asked if there would be any major overhauls in management, Akerson said it would be a "fair assumption" to say there wouldn't be any.

If true, that would be quite a different course than Akerson's predecessor, who revamped and reshuffled the automaker's executive leadership last summer when he came aboard.

Quarterly Results

Looking at GM's second-quarter performance in more detail, the company posted net income attributable to common stockholders of $1.3 billion, as it generated $33.2 billion in revenue. EBIT was $2 billion.

Free cash flow came in at $2.8 billion. The automaker had $32.5 billion in cash and marketable securities, and included in that are the funds in the Canadian Health Care Trust escrow.

Looking at GM North America, it reported EBIT of $1.6 billion, compared with $1.2 billion in the prior quarter.

Regarding the progress made in North America, GM vice chairman and chief financial officer Chris Liddell said during Thursday's call: "We've restructured the business here to be break-even near the bottom of the cycle. In the first two quarters of 2010, we're running at U.S. seasonally-adjusted annualized rates of 11.2 and 11.5 million units, respectively, and clearly produced solid positive earnings at that level." 

Analysts Discuss 2Q Results

Industry analysts looked upon GM's second-quarter earnings with mixed reviews.

"In what surely will be remembered as a pivotal day in GM's short post-bankruptcy history, today's strong Q2 earnings report takes us all closer to the company's expected IPO and 'disconnection" from the U.S. Government," Bell shared. "The automotive market has been making small but steady gains since the collapse of 2009, and GM appears to at last be poised to take advantage of such a slowly rising tide." 

Bell also harkened back to where GM was a year ago and the dire consequences that could have resulted had GM gone by the wayside.

"We think it is also of value to recall what a sorry state GM was in prior to its bankruptcy this time last year: overwhelmed by legacy issues such as heavy debt, outdated union agreements, too many brands, models and dealers for a shifting market, and slowly sinking," Bell continued.

"While the process that brought us to this day has not been pretty or inexpensive, to allow GM to fail and liquidate back then would have caused an economic firestorm with damage we would still be uncovering today," he contended. 

Meanwhile, Edmunds.com highlighted a few key trends from GM during the quarter that paint a broader picture of where GM stands. Dealer inventory turn rates have been cut from 53 days to sell in the first quarter to 47 days in the most recent period. This is a strong improvement from a year ago, when the turn rate for GM dealers was at 117 days.

GM has also put a lot of money toward incentives, Edmunds.com noted. For example, during the second quarter, it spent $3,691 per vehicle sold, versus the average of $2,672 the industry spent.

Compared to the first quarter, GM's average incentive spending is up almost $400 per vehicle sold. Meanwhile, the industry only saw a $66 per-vehicle-sold increase during the same time frame. 

Edmunds.com noted that there is an average discount of 15.7 percent on the majority of GM's models being sold, compared to the 13.7 percent average discount in the industry.  In the first quarter, GM vehicles were selling for a 13.9-percent discount, while the overall industry was at 13.2 percent.

A year ago, the numbers were 16.6 percent for GM and 15.5 percent for the industry.

Moving on, the lease penetration rate for all new GM financing deals (14.8 percent) is the strongest it has been since July 2008, Edmunds.com indicated, also noting that the automaker has enjoyed strong consideration and purchase intent lately, as well.

"While the company has good news today, it's hard to look at this data and see a definitive trend. Reestablishing credibility is achieved quarter by quarter," Anwyl stated. "They've done a good job one year out of bankruptcy, but the job is not done and competition from Ford, Hyundai, Volkswagen and others is getting more intense." 

Edmunds.com senior analyst Michelle Krebs added: "We owe GM some credit for coming out of bankruptcy with flying colors, but that really won't matter much if they don't get other elements of their business right."