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Reuss sings Oz praises

Rear-drive fan: GM North America president Mark Reuss said he faced challenges in Australia and "had a blast".

GM’s new North America president talks up Holden’s Commodore in the US

General Motors logo14 Dec 2009

NEWLY appointed GM North America president, former GM Holden chief Mark Reuss, has continued to talk positively about the chances of Australia’s top-selling Commodore returning to the US in some form.

Holden’s potentially lucrative Pontiac G8 export program was axed along with the historic GM brand earlier this year, but eventually will be replaced by exports of the Chevrolet Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle, which was revealed in October and should be available to US law enforcement agencies from early 2011.

Mr Reuss last month refused to rule out the possibility of a retail version of the Statesman-based Caprice PPV hitting US Chevrolet showrooms at some stage, following his promotion to the position of global engineering boss in October.

Now, after his December 2 appointment as GM North America president, Mr Reuss last week told members of the US public and media in an online webchat that he was a “free-thinker” when it came to wider US application of Caprice police car.

“Hey, I am a free-thinker,” he said when asked if he would reconsider the Caprice PPV program for retail sales, given his love of performance vehicles and the US public’s desire for a rear-wheel drive Chevrolet sedan.

 center imageLeft: The Chevrolet Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle.

While a retail version of the PPV would likely add significant sales volume to GM’s share of a police car market comprising up to 80,000 vehicles a year, Mr Reuss ruled out the possibility of reversing the decision to axe the Pontiac G8.

“It was painful watching this from Australia,” Mr Reuss said of Pontiac’s (and the G8’s) demise. “I lost one full shift of people and plant with G8.

“Well, I cannot say at this point, because I don’t know, but it does not look good for that (the return of the Pontiac G8). Things happened.” Of course, that doesn’t mean a short-wheelbase Commodore-based Chevrolet version of the long-wheelbase PPV is out of the question.

In fact, asked what the future holds for rear-wheel-drive cars in Chevrolet’s North American portfolio, Mr Reuss said: “You know I came up from Down Under, so I still think RWD – if done efficiently and with low mass – is relevant and a ton of fun.” Mr Reuss said GM would also investigate the US employment of the Holden-calibrated 3.0-litre version of the company’s global V6, which is now available in the Commodore.

“The 3.0-litre V6 is a challenge to calibrate depending on the vehicle. We did it really well on the RWD Zeta in Oz – just introduced it down under and it rocks. So, I need to get into this here in NA and look at how we did it and bring some of that knowledge into it.” Earlier in the week in his first media interview as North America president, Mr Reuss said his 18 months in Australia was a testing but rewarding time, due mainly to the challenges of being effectively quarantined from Holden’s parent company as GM entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

“My experience in Holden – I'm an engineer – and going through a parent company's bankruptcy in Holden as a subsidiary means that you get everything cut off in a foreign country on a funding basis to go put back into product development and sell and market and to become a stand-alone entity, which is what we did,” he said.

“Instead of bailout money or loans through this financial crisis, we put together a plan that was a co-investment of about $6.3 billion with the government to reinvent Holden, Ford and Toyota. We got that through.

“We put through a lot of marketing and sales on a self-funded basis that drove a lot of cash generation. As GMAC and GE Capital pulled out of the market on a finance basis we went in with a backstop to finance those companies.

“So this was make your own luck you're a long way from anything else and hope you guys survive. We more than survived. We put the company back into a place where it’s going to make a lot of money.

“I think that experience for me going in as an engineer – I was a financier, banker, engineer and product development manufacturing guy – was very challenging and I had a blast,” said Mr Reuss.

In the same interview, Mr Reuss identified the restructured GM leadership team’s main priorities as repaying money borrowed from the US and Canadian governments, launching an initial public offering of stock.

GM said in November that it would start repaying its government debt, including $US6.7 billion ($A7.39b) to the US and about $US1.4 billion ($A1.54b) to Canada, this month before completing the task by the end of 2011, depending on an initial public offering.

Much of the US government’s $50 billion aid package was converted into a 61 per cent equity stake in GM, making the US Treasury Department its largest shareholder. GM, whose US sales fell 32 per cent in November, has not posted a quarterly profit since the second quarter of 2007.

Mr Reuss said he would be better able to focus his abilities than former president and CEO Fritz Henderson.

“I plan to have a small team (five direct reports) that are laser focussed on sales, marketing, Onstar, manufacturing, Canada, Mexico. Fritz had a lot more to do which he did well but there are only 24 hours in a day for the man.

“Priority? Tell people about our cars and trucks, regain the confidence of the Canadian, American and Mexican people (and) sell and make some money.

“Don’t take the changes in our teams as a bad sign. It is all about putting in place what is needed to be great again.” GM’s new US boss said no new job cuts were planned for the immediate future, when he said the company would focus on building and selling best-in-class cars and making Americans proud of GM.

“The only way I know how to solve and stabilise this company for our employees, our customers and the country is to make, build and sell vehicles better than anybody else,” Reuss said.

“We need to focus on being the best, period,” he said. “The words ‘competitive’, the words ‘good enough’, are all gone from the vocabularies of our employees and need to be changed to winning, to be the best.” “I’d argue that that bankruptcy has added clarity in the company that we haven’t had for a long time around what needs to happen, what needs to be done and the will to win has been flame hardened here within our employee basis.

“Now we're positioning ourselves to win and have the American people proud of us.” In the same joint news conference last week, newly appointed sales, service and marketing director Susan Docherty said GM would no longer buy market share, which has slipped to less than 20 per cent domestically, by discounting.

“In the old GM we had a tendency to buy our market share and with our focus on going from eight brands to four brands, with building designing and selling the best cars in the world, we’re going to earn our market share,” she said.

GM chairman and acting CEO, former AT&T head Edward Whitacre, last week said the company had narrowed its search for replacements for both Mr Henderson and retiring chief financial officer Ray Young.

Asked whether he wanted to be CEO, Mr Reuss said: “No comment. No. I'm interested in doing well at what I'm doing.”

GM reshuffles brand chiefs

THE brand leaders of Buick-GMC, Michael Richards, and Chevrolet, Brent Dewar, have both elected to leave General Motors in the wake of the reorganisation under GM chairman and acting chief executive Ed Whitacre and GM North America president (and former Holden chairman) Mark Reuss.

The latest moves are considered a changing of the guard from the team former CEO Fritz Henderson and vice-chairman Bob Lutz put together after the American auto giant exited Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this year to a new senior leadership team under Messrs Whitacre and Reuss and new sales, service and marketing vice-president Susan Docherty.

A former long-time Ford executive, Mr Richards resigned on December 10 – just nine days after being appointed general manager of Buick-GMC. His surprise departure was announced after Mr Lutz – who had hired him – had his responsibilities moved from head of marketing to adviser to Mr Whitacre.

Ms Docherty said in a statement that Mr Richards had “elected to leave General Motors to pursue other career opportunities”. A replacement is still to be announced.

Meanwhile, Mr Dewar, who is a 31-year veteran of GM and also assumed his most recent position when Mr Lutz was in charge of marketing, has “elected to retire” next April. He has been replaced as head of Chevrolet by James Campbell, who most recently was responsible for GM’s fleet and commercial operations.

Mr Dewar will work with Mr Campbell “to ensure a smooth transition at Chevrolet” and will also be on a “special assignment” supporting Mr Reuss.

Mr Whitacre said last week that the new managers would not have long to produce positive results for the company. He also said that GM would soon announce a new chief financial officer. It is also still to find a new CEO.

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