Still, putting the tax credits back on the books was good news for the company because it's a sign of good prospects, Chief Financial Officer Dan Ammann said.
"We've established a clear track record of profitability over the last three years," he said. "It's a reflection of our confidence in the fact that we're going to generate significant profitability in the North American market going forward."
But the change means that GM will return to a 35 percent tax rate, up from the mid-teens last year. It still won't pay U.S. federal income taxes for many years due to the write-offs.
GM also announced that its union workers would each get $6,750 in profit-sharing checks next month because of the strong performance in North America. In 2011, the company and the United Auto Workers agreed to profit-sharing instead of pay raises. Last year UAW workers got checks for $7,000.
Ammann said GM's North American profits were down a little from 2011 largely due to lower pension income.
In Europe, Ammann said GM still expects to break even on a pretax basis by the middle of the decade. Although the loss widened from the third quarter, he said the company is bullish on its prospects. Cost-cutting efforts, including the closure of one plant, are under way. And the company plans to roll out 23 new vehicles in the next two years.
"We're leading with investment. We're leading with new product," he said.