DETROIT -- With General Motors' share price stuck in neutral, executives have been working overtime to get a dual message across to skeptical Wall Street investors.
For one, GM brass foresees a steady plateau for U.S. auto sales, not the quick retreat from last year's record 17.5 million vehicles that some fear.
"Is it peak, or is it plateau? We clearly think the industry will plateau," GM CEO Mary Barra said during an address here last week at GM's annual award ceremony for its top-rated suppliers. Barra said she was on the East Coast last week "talking to our shareholders" about GM's outlook.
"We think, unless there's some external issue that really shakes consumer confidence, that we should continue to see more of the same," Barra said, citing 19 economic and auto-market measures that GM tracks.
Part 2 of GM's case: Whenever the inevitable downturn comes, the company is more prepared than some investors believe. GM for years has said it would be able to break even if annual sales cratered to between 10 million and 11 million vehicles. (The last time sales fell in that range was 2009, the year GM went bankrupt.)
At a dinner in New York last week, GM CFO Chuck Stevens briefed equity analysts on how GM is positioned to weather such a precipitous drop, according to analyst research notes from the meeting.
GM could cut $3 billion to $5 billion in annual costs in a severe downturn, including up to $1 billion in hourly labor costs, according to a research note from RBC Capital Markets analyst Joseph Spak. Other cost reductions would come from advertising, vehicle incentives and profit-sharing payments to employees, Spak's note said.
Stevens also highlighted the improved health of GM's underlying U.S. business, noting lower vehicle inventories, tamer vehicle incentives and gains in retail market share.
"Importantly," Barclays Capital analyst Brian Johnson wrote, GM "is not chasing volume as it once did."
Johnson wrote that he appreciates the greater transparency GM is giving investors on its downside risk and that he sees "merit in some of their claims." Still, he's not sure it will help GM's stagnant share price.
"It's unclear that investors will give [GM] credit for downside protection abilities until they actually see healthy results" amid a sales downturn, he wrote.
Apart from concerns about near-term U.S. sales, analysts have been voicing concern about automakers' ability to compete with Google, Uber and other tech firms in autonomous driving, ride-sharing and other new frontiers. GM's answer in part has been acquisitions and partnerships with Silicon Valley startups, including its disclosure last week that it will buy Cruise Automation, an autonomous-driving startup.