DETROIT -- General Motors CEO Dan Akerson says GM's problems in Europe are his top priority, followed by the company's massive pension obligation.
"First and foremost we have to fix Europe, or at least get it to where it doesn't drain the corporate coffers," Akerson said.
In the first quarter GM lost $256 million in Europe. The company has lost more than $16 billion there since 1999.
In late June, GM officials are expected to outline plans to stem the losses in Europe.
Speaking to reporters before GM's annual shareholders meeting last week at GM headquarters, Akerson cited its European problems, pension obligation and the overall threat of the European debt crisis as the main drags on GM's stock.
Akerson said GM recently made new labor agreements with its unions in Poland and England, which he said has "a significant impact on our potential future in Europe." He said GM is in "constructive" discussions with unions in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.
Akerson also said he would consider offering a pension buyout to GM's more than 400,000 hourly retirees and dependents as a way to reduce the $134 billion pension obligation on GM's books. Akerson said that's the largest pension liability of any U.S. company.
This month GM said it will offer a buyout to some of its salaried retirees.
"It's certainly something we would look at if the opportunity arose," Akerson said of a possible hourly pension buyout. Many analysts have speculated that GM could take that step as a way to mitigate one of the largest threats still hanging over the company three years after its 2009 bankruptcy.
Akerson defended the company's beaten-down stock price, saying many automotive rivals also have had their shares sink amid Europe's debt crisis. He said, "There are a lot of things to be pleased about" with GM's performance globally, including strong profits in the United States and a growing market share in China.
For the year, GM shares were up 8 percent through Monday, June 11, to $21.92. But the shares fell 45 percent last year, despite record pretax profits of $7.6 billion, and have dropped 33 percent since the automaker's November 2010 initial public stock offering.
The shares have come under pressure amid investor concerns about GM's continued losses in Europe and its profit outlook in North America this year, where it is undergoing a costly changeover to its next-generation pickups and SUVs.
Akerson has been pressing GM management to cut costs in marketing, engineering and other areas as he seeks to lift pretax profit margins to 10 percent within the next few years, from 6 percent in 2011. That would put GM on par with the industry's most profitable players, including Hyundai Motor Co.
Akerson said GM is about 25 percent of the way through its overall cost-cutting effort.