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Reuss for president

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Australia-US export hopes rise as former Holden boss becomes GM’s US chief

8 December 2009


GM HOLDEN’S US export hopes have received yet another potentially significant boost after the surprise promotion of the company’s former chairman to the second most powerful position in General Motors.

The appointment late last week of Mark Reuss as president of GM North America, the auto giant’s most important market, also places him next in line for the top job at GM – a position previously held by his father Lloyd.

Mr Reuss, 46, replaces Fritz Henderson, who resigned from the positions of both GM North America president and GM president and CEO on December 2 after eight months in GM’s top two jobs.

In his new role as head of GM’s North American operations, Mr Reuss is in a position to fully understand any contribution that Holden could make to the product line-up of the car-maker’s remaining US brands.

The simultaneous return of GM stalwart Bob Lutz to an exclusive product role and the departure of Mr Henderson is also good news for Holden. Mr Lutz has always been a fan of GM’s Australian operations but Mr Henderson persistently poured cold water on the prospect of Australia building cars for America.

Mr Reuss’ appointment was announced by new GM chairman and CEO Edward Whitacre, who revealed several other key leadership changes at GM aimed at improving accountability and responsibility for market performance both in the US and globally.

“I want to give people more responsibility and authority deeper in the organisation and then hold them accountable,” said Mr Whitacre. “We’ve realigned our leadership duties and responsibilities to help us meet our mission to design, build and sell the world’s best vehicles.”

Mr Reuss replaced Chris Gubbey as GM Holden chief on February 1, 2008. Formerly GM’s executive director of global vehicle systems and integration, Mr Reuss was then promoted to the position of vice-president of global vehicle engineering just two month ago in October.

Mr Reuss championed the development of a police version of Holden’s long-wheelbase Statesman, which was officially revealed as the Chevrolet Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle (PPV) in Denver in October, following the axing of GM’s historic Pontiac brand – and exports of Holden’s Commodore SS-based Pontiac G8 sports sedan – in April this year.

The Caprice PPV will be available for order by law enforcement agencies across North America next year and should hit US streets in early 2011, giving Holden a potentially large slice of a police vehicle market that amounts to annual sales of up to 80,000 vehicles.

Ford has since announced its intention to also vie for US police vehicle business with a replacement for its aged Crown Victoria, which ceases production in 2011, and GM is likely to face union and other political resistance to an imported US police vehicle.

Mr Reuss and an official GM email referring to the “MY11.5 Chevy Police Program and MY12 Chevy SS” have both fuelled widespread speculation that GM could offer a public version of the Chevrolet police car, representing a potentially lucrative new US export channel for Holden.

“I’m not saying we’re going retail,” said Mr Reuss in an online interview last month. “(But) If there’s an opportunity to do some things to the car to make the car even better maybe or do in a different way than stick Chev badges on it, then we’ve really got to think about that. We’ll try to do everything we can with integrity.

“The cop car was something I really wanted to have happen here (in the US) because it’s very stable volume and it can be (employing) almost a shift of people at Adelaide in South Australia,” he said.

“(But) I think there’s a real good thing that will happen with these police cars too is that people will like seeing the car and it never hurts to create a little interest around making a product decision, so we’ll see how people like it with a Chev badge on it and see how that goes.”

Further, Mr Reuss did not rule out the possibility of the short-wheelbase G8 being born again as a Chevrolet, something his predecessor had consistently opposed.

“I can tell you that we had a lot of discussion around that – I did late at night …,” he said.

“(But) None of us felt right about badge engineering from an integrity point of view, so if there’s an opportunity to do something else maybe a little later … people will remember what this car is and what this platform is.”

While Mr Henderson and the only apparent opposition to Chev-badged Holdens appearing in US showrooms are now gone, Mr Reuss knows Holden’s engineering capability intimately and doesn’t have to rely on advice to be convinced of GM’s Australian subsidiary to deliver.

Further increasing Holden’s US export potential will be the wider sphere of influence of Mr Lutz, the former GM product chief who played an integral role in exports of both the Holden Monaro as the Pontiac GTO and the G8, which the 77-year-old has described as “too good to waste”. As part of GM’s leadership reshuffle, Mr Lutz will relinquish his marketing advisory role but continues to be vice-chairman advising on design and global product development.

GM says the changes will constitute a “new North American group”, with sales chief Susan Docherty, who adds service and marketing roles to her portfolio, reporting to Mr Reuss and charged with increasing GM’s North American market share of less than 20 per cent – down from 51 per cent 50 years ago.

Ms Docherty, 47, became vice-president of sales in October and has now also been put in charge of marketing GM’s four remaining US brands. The new US management team also includes Diana Tremblay, who becomes vice-president of manufacturing. Her labour relations title is assumed by Denise Johnson, the former vehicle line director and chief engineer for global small cars.

In other key GM leadership changes announced by Mr Whitacre, Nick Reilly has been officially named as president of GM Europe after becoming interim head of Opel following last month’s departure of CEO Carl-Peter Forster.

Mr Reilly, 59, was appointed head of international operations after GM’s bankruptcy and prior to that led GM’s Asia-Pacific division.

“I’m extremely pleased to be able to lead Opel and Vauxhall through the current difficult times and into a sustainable future,” said Mr Reilly in a statement on Friday.

“As a European, I'm totally committed to Opel/Vauxhall's future success. There are a lot of challenges ahead, and it won't be an easy ride, but I'm convinced that all ingredients are there to make it work.”

Assuming Mr Reilly’s job as head of international operations – overseeing GM’s Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Africa and Middle East regions – is Tim Lee, who was recently group vice-president of manufacturing and labour relations.

Vice-president of communications, Chris Preuss, now reports to Mr Whitacre instead of Mt Lutz, while Tom Stephens continues in his role as vice-chairman of global product operations, but will also supervise global purchasing.

Finally, Karl-Friedrich Stracke, who had been executive director of engineering, replaces Mr Reuss as vice-president of engineering, reporting to Mr Stephens.



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