DETROIT -- Just two years after it was rescued and reconstituted through bankruptcy and a government bailout, General Motors Co. cruised through 2011 to post the biggest profit in its history.
The 103-year-old company, leaner and smarter under new management, cut costs by taking advantage of its size around the globe. And its new products boosted sales so much that it has reclaimed the title of world's biggest automaker from Toyota.
GM may have a hard time breaking this record in 2012 because it is losing money in Europe and South America, and U.S. sales growth slowed in the last three months. But the company's performance in North America and Asia still helped it earn $7.6 billion for the year, beating the record of $6.7 billion set during the truck boom in 1997.
The profit won't stop the debate about spending $49.5 billion in taxpayer dollars to save GM. But it did drive up the company's stock price, which could help the government get more of its money back.
The bailout of GM and Chrysler Group LLC, begun by George W. Bush and finished by Barack Obama, remains a major issue in this year's presidential campaign. It's so politically charged that even a Super Bowl ad celebrating Chrysler's rebirth caused arguments.
GM, which released its earnings Thursday, performed best in its home territory, posting a $7.2 billion pretax profit in North America. The report was so good that 47,500 blue-collar workers will get $7,000 profit-sharing checks.