Daimler, the German car and truck maker, said Thursday that its net profit rose by nearly 50 percent in 2020, as it managed to cut costs more than enough to compensate for a decline in sales and supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic.
The company, which makes Mercedes-Benz cars, Freightliner trucks and other brands, is among traditional vehicle makers defying predictions that the pandemic would accelerate their decline into irrelevance as the industry shifts to electric vehicles. Daimler shares have tripled since hitting a low point in March 2020, and rose again Thursday.
Daimler’s net profit for the year rose almost 50 percent to 4 billon euros, or $4.8 billion, compared with 2019 after sales bounced back toward the end of the year. Almost all of the profit, 3.6 billion euros, was recorded in the fourth quarter.
For the full year, sales still fell 11 percent compared to 2019, to 154 billion euros. But the company made up the difference and then some by cutting the work force by 7,000 workers or 4 percent of the total, reducing expenditures on research and development and other measures.
Daimler also benefited from the swift recovery of the Chinese economy from the pandemic. China has eclipsed Europe and the United States as the company’s biggest market for Mercedes-Benz cars.
The company said it was optimistic about 2021, forecasting “significant” increases in most major markets during 2021. Daimler warned that shortages of semiconductors, a problem for all carmakers, could be a burden on sales and earnings early in the year.
Ola Källenius, the Daimler chief executive, declined Thursday to set an expiration date for making cars powered by internal combustion engines, as rivals like General Motors or Jaguar Land Rover have done. But he said the company was redirecting resources to emissions-free transportation.
“It’s a tick too early” to make a commitment to stop selling gasoline and diesel vehicles, Mr. Källenius said during a telephone conference with journalists. “But the commitment is there. The journey is going in that direction and we will be ready.”
Daimler said this month that it would split its car and truck divisions into separate companies, a move long favored by investors. Mr. Källenius said Thursday that the amicable divorce, expected to be completed by the end of the year, would allow the two divisions to react more quickly to changes in the industry.
“This is a time when agility in decision making is even more important than it has been in the past,” he said.
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