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) -- To the question of whether to invest in




General Motors


, GM CEO Dan Akerson had an answer Thursday: Judge us by our products.

"There's no question Ford took a different path,

but we arrived at the same location: we're viable companies," a jubilant Akerson said Thursday morning on a conference call with reporters. "At the end of the day, the desirability of the product will rule in the marketplace.

"We want to design and build the best vehicles we can, and that's our charge going forward," he said.

GM CEO Akerson, right, watches his ticker Thursday

On Thursday, its first day of trading, GM was clearly preferred by auto investors. Shares closed at $34.16, up $1.19 from the IPO price, after reaching a high of $35.99 during the day. Meanwhile, shares in Ford closed down 56 cents at $16.12.

Much has been written comparing the two automakers and the variations in their stories. Ford hired CEO Alan Mulally


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in 2006. His early his decisions enabled Ford to avoid turning to the government when the auto market collapsed in 2008.

GM was drawn into the abyss. It required $50 billion in government loans, a bankruptcy, delisting from the New York Stock Exchange and four CEOs in 18 months to get out.

But today,

GM is out

. "It's a great day for everyone with a stake in GM -- employees, retirees, dealers, taxpayers and new shareholders," Akerson said, who credited "a herculean effort."

Akerson thanked taxpayers in the U.S. and Canada, who became major investors in the company. Some got a chance to invest at the IPO price of $33; Akerson said 90% of the shares in the IPO were allocated within North America.

CFO Chris Liddell noted that every major mutual fund expressed interest. In a


interview, Akerson named


as a company that obtained shares at the IPO price. That meant a profit just after midday, when shares were trading at $35.27.

"There was a huge amount of interest on both the retail side and from mutual funds," Liddell said, during the call. "We met with almost all major mutual funds in recent weeks, and virtually all of them put orders in. I hope they got allocations."

Akerson also addressed one of GM's current problems, auto industry

weakness in Europe . "The price for addressing our issues in Europe is very similar to what we did in the US and Canada," he said. "We need to improve the utilization of our plants ... Across the board, we're going to reduce costs." One step, already announced, is to close an Antwerp, Belgium plant that makes Opels, eliminating 2,606 jobs.

Akerson said that GM expects improvement in Europe in 2011 and that in 2012 "it is our hope that we could" be profitable.

He said the U.S. could not have afforded a GM collapse. "It would have been devastating for the infrastructure of the United States," he said. "If GM, the largest auto company in North America, had failed and gone Chapter 7, the supply chain would have been decimated."

Two weeks from today, General Motors will report November sales figures, and it is safe to say a lot of investors will be watching closely.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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Ted Reed