Green Update: GM’s Akerson Looks to The Future

Dan Akerson

GM CEO Dan Akerson talked at length to the Detroit News about many matters bearing on the company’s future. His comments on alternative-fuel vehicles and the wisdom of a gas tax were particularly interesting.

“In the next 10 years,” he said, “this company has to break the code on advanced propulsion and that’s going to be a multifaceted solution.”

And the GM product line has to completely reform: “If we produce 8 million cars this year, we have to have three or four models that we produce as half of those models.” Chevrolet has to be the “killer brand.”

It was frankly refreshing to hear this kind of straight talk from someone who doesn’t proclaim that he has all the answers.

Akerson’s naysayers, of course, were out in force with all the answers. Edward Niedermeyer, one of the usual leaders of the negativity parade, was surprisingly mild in his criticism. The commenters, however, told a different story.

Most of what they say (and our blog has its share) is simple prejudice or cheap sarcasm, exercising their right to rant that GM can do nothing right. Scroll down here, here, and see Randy’s comment here on our blog for samples. Asking these people for more objectivity is like asking a child to stop his tantrum. Finally, this stuff is tiresome.

2014 Cadillac ATS-V (maybe)

Anyhow, Akerson thinks what GM does with Cadillac will be a key determiner of the company’s future success. It’s got to be a global brand, and it has to improve. At the annual meeting today, he said GM will build Cadillacs outside the U.S. next year, à la the Toyota-Lexus model. Earlier, he remarked that Ford should “sprinkle holy water” and give up on Lincoln. Which naturally caused more comment!

Akerson wants to make “these big, heavy trucks that are making 15 miles, 12 miles to a gallon” a lot more fuel-efficient, despite the fact that they now make up a big chunk of GM’s profit.

He advocates a government-imposed 50-cent-to-$1.00 gas tax, which indeed would do more to promote small-car sales than the ridiculous (in my opinion) CAFE standards that are basically a tax on production. Akerson maintains that raising mileage requirements by 3 to 6 percent annually, as the feds propose, will boost vehicle cost “by up to $3,500” per unit.

Yes, a gas tax may be politically impossible right now, but it would work and it would produce gobs of revenue that we desperately need. Not too many auto execs have the cojones to admit that in public. Now, if they would bring some pressure to bear on our useless Congress, it might happen (at least in my fantasy).

Well, how about a gas tax? Is it totally out of the question? Leave us a thoughtful comment.


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  1. @ Randy
    Randy, I really do value your comments, your contributions to our blog and your insights. And I surely don’t question your work experience or your knowledge of the car industry. But you are so consistently pissed off and grinding axes with GM (maybe with good cause) that your argument becomes a diatribe and frequently sounds like a personal vendetta.

    The one you wrote here——is a good example. You aren’t going to convince anybody that the bailout was a bad idea by telling us how the rich guys got away with murder. Most bankruptcies permit the pigs to shelter their assets, and the nature of the process is to screw the debtors and permit the business to start over. Then you tell us (last sentence) that Chrysler and GM are going to follow their same old scenario, which you put in vivid, negative terms without any kind of support.

    Well, I have to say that this sort of pitch is far from objective, and that’s what I meant in my comment in the piece above. It’s just another angry rant, and these don’t convince anybody except those who see things exactly the same way.

    If you want to convince people, talk to them about what you actually saw at GM and Delphi and how the patterns got established, how exactly the money “got pissed away,” why the R&D failed, etc. You have a great history of work in the car business. You don’t need to throw brickbats.

    You asked about my “adult working career.” I’ve been a professor, writer, marketer and media consultant. Cars have been my interest and passion since high school. I probably would have quit if I’d spent as much time as you have in the car biz. I once sold Fords at a big dealership and lasted three weeks.

  2. “Asking these people for more objectivity is like asking a child to stop his tantrum. Finally, this stuff is tiresome.” Then I have to ask you this: Where did you spend the majority of your adult working career? I spent it working in car dealers, garages and then 17 years at GM Research and another 10 years at Delphi research. Because I worked in advanced development and research, I had frequent contacts with senior executives at technology demonstrations. As an insider, my observations might have a little more objectivity than you think.

  3. @ panayoti
    I know, you’re right about “useless,” really a gutless term. But even though this isn’t a family publication, we try to keep the offensive language to a minimum.

  4. Yeah ramp gas prices up every other country does mind you noone else builds useless big pickups there is a much better selection of heavy duty work vehicles out ther than the poseur crap the big3 churn out.

  5. Yes, it is totally out of the question today but it would be the correct thing to do if we had a RESPONSIBLE congress. The problem with these kind of DEDICATED taxes is that they soon become perverted to some other Congressional priorities and the money intended to go to solve one problem ends up getting diverted to some other frivolous cause such as ethanol subsidies.

    Your description of Congress (useless) is far too kind. They are totally worthless and such wieners (pun intended) that anything they do must be questioned and scrutinized.

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