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Fastlane: GM = Green Motors?

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By Beth Lowery
GM Vice President, Environment, Energy & Safety Policy

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of environmental professionals who were in Detroit to attend the Air and Waste Management Association’s annual conference and exhibition.

I gave a formal speech, but the best part of the morning for me was the question and answer session that followed. I’d like to share some of the questions that were posed, along with my answers, and invite you to ask questions of your own about GM’s efforts to reinvent ourselves as a greener company.

Electric vehicles have high up-front capital requirements. How are you going to make electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt profitably?

Introducing advanced technology is always expensive initially, especially in the early generations. It’s important to have the right incentives for customers, such as federal tax credits. Future generations of the technology will be less expensive, making it possible for us to turn a profit.

Does GM have plans to move beyond motor vehicles?

We actually entered the hybrid market with a two-mode hybrid system that was first developed for buses. From a macro level, we’re looking at transportation systems globally, but our main focus today is on getting personal transportation - cars and trucks - right.

How are you going to get people back into American cars - how do you convince them that American cars are reliable?

We know that people’s perceptions of the quality and reliability of our vehicles do not match reality. When people get behind the wheel of our cars and drive them, they have a totally different opinion. We are focused on quality, fuel economy and great design, and we are asking customers to judge us for what we are today, not what we were years ago. The award-winning Chevy Malibu - which continues to be very popular with consumers - is proof that we can win in today’s market. We think objective data - such as J.D. Power and Associates naming Buick the most dependable brand this year (tied with Jaguar) - will also help convince people.

It seems that the U.S. now depends more heavily on the financial sector for a greater percentage of our Gross National Product (GNP). As a manufacturer, how do you compete?

We see a real need for a comprehensive manufacturing policy in the U.S. Our philosophy has been to manufacture where we sell. GM strongly supports building products here in the U.S.

Not all of the components that go into GM’s cars are made in the U.S. How will you rectify that?

There are labeling requirements and we identify the percentage of U.S. content in our cars and trucks. That being said, we are a global company and we operate a global purchasing system. We buy the best available components that we believe will make our products the best.

What is GM doing to help educate the next generation of U.S. engineers?

This is a critically important issue, and we have a number of initiatives under way. We have programs that target students in kindergarten through grade 12 to educate them about what the vehicles of the future will be like through publications like the Weekly Reader. We also have programs for college students, like the EcoCAR Challenge, which is done in partnership with many, such as the U.S. Department of Energy and Natural Resources Canada. Teams of students from more than a dozen universities in the U.S. and Canada are competing to convert a Saturn Vue into a zero-emission vehicle that consumers can afford to buy. We provide the teams with production vehicles and parts, seed money, technical mentoring and operational support throughout the three-year program. And we have been fortunate to recruit some of our talented engineers from this program.


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I know I don't post here much anymore since school started, but this caught my interest.

In particular, my School, UOIT (University of Ontario Institute Technology) is 1 of the 12 schools participating in this challenge.

The team working on the vehicle has some cool things planned, they have set their goals very high.

It's going to get interesting next year especially because our "GM Building of Automotive Excellence" will be completed allowing the team

access to some very sophisticated tools. I personally am looking forward to the wind tunnel. We're one of the few schools that offers

an Automotive Engineering course, I personally am in Mechanical Engineering but i'm taking Internal Combustion Engines and it's very enjoyable to do some

calculations based on a car engine, something I've always loved and known how it physically works, but have never been able to put a number to.

Either way, some cool stuff is going on with this ecocar challenge and I look forward to the results, it's great the GM has put faith in us and the other

schools and hopefully it ends up paying off for GM and the schools in the long run.


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Whitacre should look crosstown to fix arrogant culture

January 25, 2010 - 10:55 am ET

24 commentsRecommend (7) Related Stories

Whitacre tightens grip on GM as CEO, endorses top managers

If Ed Whitacre wants to become General Motors' first thoroughly successful chief executive in a couple of generations, he ought to study the outsiders who are leading his crosstown rivals.

At both Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler, dynamic leaders are making all the people at these large organizations row in the same direction. That's hard at GM, whose insular culture still prompts people to act, despite GM's well-documented failure, as though they're the smartest people in the room, with nothing to learn from outside.

Bankruptcy did not cleanse GM of arrogance.

Whitacre needs to figure out how to improve that culture.

Alan Mulally came in from Boeing. In his aw-shucks, country-boy way he pushed a sclerotic Ford in one clear direction. Mulally has few and grand ideas, and that's what it takes for a CEO.

Like a mantra, his principles are repeated over and over within Ford:

• Be one global Ford, which doesn't do repetitive engineering and design all around the world;

• Emphasize the Ford blue-oval brand, and don't get caught up in small, extraneous businesses;

• Emphasize fuel efficiency and a full lineup from small cars to crossovers;

• Bring technology affordably to the masses; and

• Communicate that it's working.

At Chrysler, the overwhelming force of Sergio Marchionne's intense intellect and stunning, monk-like workaholism has whipped the organization into a rowing team. Everybody knows the challenge, and everybody is pulling together.

After the catastrophe of DaimlerChrysler and the absentee incompetence of Cerberus ownership, Chrysler folks are so happy to know that a powerful adult is in charge that they're happy to follow Marchionne into crazy-long work weeks.

GM has tremendous technical capability, and lots of good people. Under Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, now Whitacre's adviser, GM became more global and developed first-class vehicles.

Ed Whitacre's challenge is not to specify future cars or advertising campaigns or even to reorganize the engineering organization. It's to develop a sense of humility within GM that allows the organization to hear what consumers want.

GM needs a learning culture, and needs to treat its suppliers, dealers and consumers with a lot more respect.


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