By on June 6, 2011

The Detroit News snagged a lengthy interview with GM CEO Dan Akerson, giving observers one of the first in-depth looks at the man who will be leading The General for the next three to four years. The interview is to lengthy to summarize here, but there are a few items that are worth noting…

For one thing, Akerson has some serious ambitions and doesn’t mind sharing them with the world.

There are a couple milestones in my tenure I want to accomplish. I want to earn $10 billion a year profit. I want get the U.S. pension fund to fully funded — and we’re making real progress there. I want to make Europe profitable on a sustainable basis.

None of these are going to be easy to accomplish. A $10b profit would require a doubling of GM’s performance last year, and the other goals (particularly in regards to the troubled European operations) will divert a huge amount of cash. Meanwhile, the old GM challenge of “culture change” continues to be one of Akerson’s top priorities as well, as he seeks to develop a competitive atmosphere and break down the tradition of “boss worship” which holds back the necessary give-and-take.

But possibly the biggest challenge Akerson faces has to do with GM’s product, and the DetN includes a separate write-up of Akerson’s thoughts on the matter. Speed of development is one of his major changes, and he acknowledges that his desire to pull forward development of the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu faced internal dissent (which he overruled, raising questions about the alleged death of “boss worship” at GM).

On the issue of fuel economy, he argues that the Chevrolet Volt

is a novelty (today), but it won’t be in five years. It’s going to be an old, old technology and old news.

He also says ethanol will “die slowly” and hints that GM will eventually start selling dual-fuel commercial vehicles, capable of running on natural gas or gasoline. Akerson also says that

we’re not going to do these big, heavy trucks that are making 15 miles, 12 miles to a gallon.

Which, given rising CAFE standards and gas prices, comes as no real surprise. It does, however, create some challenges to his goal of $10b annual profits, as much of GM’s profit traditionally comes from the sale of large trucks, and fuel-economy-improvement-related cost increases for pickups are projected to be costly.

Akerson made a few surprising statements on the luxury front, including a perplexing assessment of Cadillac’s next two vehicles, the XTS and ATS, which he says

are not going to blow the doors off, but they will be very competitive.

Whatever that means. And despite his apparent lack of confidence in the next generation of Caddies, he still took a potshot at Ford, saying

They are trying like hell to resurrect Lincoln. Well, I might as well tell you, you might as well sprinkle holy water. It’s over

In general, Akerson comes across as quite candid, possibly overly so (though you won’t hear us complaining about it). But for all his ambitions, he offers relatively little in the way of specific strategies to accomplish them. For example, his desire to make GM more like Toyota is hardly a “strategy,” as every automaker has been studying and trying to replicate Toyota’s success for decades. Speeding up development is an indication of his approach, but it brings with it worries about future quality. Similarly his desire to compete with every Volkswagen model while simultaneously downsizing and restructuring Opel sounds like a tough balancing act. But then, when it comes to turning around a company as large and perennially troubled as GM, ambitious goals and tough strategies are the only way forward.

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53 Comments on “Inside The Mind Of Dan Akerson...”


  • avatar

    “…the man who will be leading The General for the next three to four years.”

    Care to make a friendly wager on that? I’ll take the under… way under…

    “[The ATS and XTS] are not going to blow the doors off, but they will be very competitive.”

    Lovely, just what we need more of. Two thoroughly middling luxury cars, by the CEO’s own admission. Way to stoke the fires of anticipation there, Danny Boy.

    This clown is… well, just that, a clown.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      “This clown is… well, just that, a clown.”

      Yup. The sooner he’s out, the better.

      I miss Lutz.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Do you suppose he has read ‘The Decline and Fall of the US Auto Industry’ by Brock Yates? People who are happy with the cars they’re driving now won’t change brands for “very competitive.”

      • 0 avatar
        SVX pearlie

        Of course they won’t unless:
        a) their brand is no longer made (e.g. Mercury)
        b) their brand no longer meets their needs (e.g. Acura)
        c) is not even close to competitive (e.g. Chrysler, Lincoln, Infiniti).

        In that case “very competitive” will do OK.

        While I figured the XTS to be a placeholder (hence the X, like the underwhelming XLR), I’m surprised the ATS is also a placeholder for something better.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    Is the old GM back already???

    I sure hope not, I really thought they were going to pull it off this time…

  • avatar
    nrd515

    This is the kind of guy GM doesn’t need at this point. He’s going to bring it all down if he sticks around too long. Hope the board sees this in time.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    Akerson should be raked over the coals by the employees and stockholders for his Cadillac comments. You don’t come out and say that your most prestigious products are, in effect, just OK and nothing to write home about. It’s not enough for Cadillac to be merely “competitive”, and it’s sheer stupidity to state for the record that your company isn’t being ambitious about its products.

    • 0 avatar
      FromaBuick6

      The last thing you do is admit your products aren’t the best, even when you’re hawking back-of-the-pack garbage like the J-car. Even Roger Smith wasn’t this stupid.

      His comment on Lincoln is spot on, though. The party’s over and it’s just not worth the necessary reinvestment. Heck, perhaps Akerson actually does understand GM’s products and the overall market (not that it takes a lot of insight to understand Lincoln’s screwed and that the front-drive XTS will be mediocre)…too bad his blinding arrogance will sink the company again.

      • 0 avatar
        SVX pearlie

        “Even Roger Smith wasn’t this stupid”

        Cap’n Dan: CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!

        Roger Smith had a lot of time, and did a lot of damage to GM. We’ll see how much Cap’n Dan screws things up.

  • avatar
    86er

    we’re not going to do these big, heavy trucks that are making 15 miles, 12 miles to a gallon.

    Boy, are a couple hundred thousand loyal customers ever going to be disappointed… oh he means they’ll still be big and heavy to do big and heavy tasks, but just won’t get 12-15 mpg? Ok. Well hopefully he’s examining the customer uptake on the Ford EcoBoost then. Which reminds me, where is GM’s response to that?

    [The ATS and XTS] are not going to blow the doors off, but they will be very competitive.

    Of course not, since he’s kaiboshed the 6.2 litre.

    And then states:

    They are trying like hell to resurrect Lincoln. Well, I might as well tell you, you might as well sprinkle holy water. It’s over

    He might as well throw Cadillac on that funeral pyre if that’s what’s in the pipeline.

  • avatar
    MikeAR

    From what I’ve read, Akerson expects boss-worship and usually a boss who says something like that likes tongue baths by subordinates. He has never suceeded at any upper level job he’s ever had, why should we expect this time to be the exception?

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Akerson couldn’t happen to a nicer corporation.

  • avatar
    getacargetacheck

    I’ll take the contrarian position here and say that Akerson is headed in the right direction. Particularly with regard to his comments about getting a large chunk of global sales from 2 or 3 models. That’s how GM will get hugely profitable again. Sorry fanboys, but low-volume V-series cars aren’t gonna move the important needles. Anyway, his comments about Lincoln might as well apply to Cadillac — no matter how many “bahn-burners” are in the stable. Cadillac peaked in 1959 and will always be remembered for those cars. The Europeans don’t want them and neither do the Chinese. Only attention-starved Americans and Canadians seem to care. Stick a fork in it.

  • avatar

    the way talent has run away from him is a very bad sign. his statements are another.

  • avatar
    Zarba

    Brilliant. Newsflash: GM Hires ANOTHER Arrogant CEO”

    How about, “We’re going to work our asses off to build the best cars and trucks on the planet. And we’ll be paying back every dime the govt gave us. Period.”

    Oh, and poking Alan Mullaly in the eye is not a good corporate strategy. Ask Airbus.

    “Inside The Mind Of Dan Akerson…Boy, It’s Dark In Here”

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    I’ve said it before but I worry about GM and whether they survive, and if they do, they won’t be the top dog anymore. So far I’ve not seen much that has convinced me they are going to change, especially when an engineer simply says, let’s put in a huge honking V8 into whatever when that may or may not be what is truly needed and the other thing is, why, prey tell are they still using pushrod motors in this day and age when pretty much everyone else had ditched them for single or dual overhead cam motors years ago?

    Hell, Ford finally upgraded the 4.0L V6 to OHC back in 2003 finally and I think ALL of the motors used in the Mustang are OHC as well.

    Heck, even Fiat has ditched all of their pushrod/OHV motors by the late 1980′s and while I don’t know for sure if Ford and Chrysler have totally ditched the Pushrod or not, but I have a feeling they have pretty much by now.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      First off, what’s wrong with pushrods? All I care about is that my valves are opened, not how they are opened. Pushrod engines can be built to handle high RPMs, so that’s not a reason to dislike them. It’s not like one is “cutting edge” technology – overhead cams have been around every bit as long as pushrods. It’s not like anyone is peddling L-head or F-head engines anymore – now those are ancient technology…pushrods, not so much.

      The Ford 4.0L was “upgraded” to overhead cams in the late 1990′s – it made it’s first appearance in the Explorer. They had a number of valvetrain problems with it at first but eventually got it worked out.

      Chrysler’s Hemi still uses pushrods. I don’t know about you, but I’d be plenty satisfied with the 470 naturally aspirated horsepower that the 6.4L version makes in the SRT products – satisfied enough that I wouldn’t give a second thought as to the valvetrain design. The only other engine they currently make with pushrods is the 3.8L V-6 in the Wrangler, which rumor on Allpar has it is on it’s way out after the 2011 model year.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        While my fiance’s Pontiac Vibe was waiting for an oil change yesterday, I test drove a 2010 Buick Lucerne with the 3.9 PUSHROD V6. I am convinced it is a more than worthy successor to the legendary 3800V6. Now if someone could just tell me how to get the HP back that GM lost between the 3.9V6 in the Impala LTZ and the 3.9V6 in the Buick Lucerne… (BTW a dual exhaust upgrade is a given.)

  • avatar
    Dynasty

    Pushrod or no pushrod, the LS motors are quite possibly one the of the most efficient dollar for horsepower and reliable as well.

    The engine has been continually refined for the past 50 years.

    Take the overall packaging size and weight of the LS in correlation to the amount of power it generates and how little fuel it burns and I don’t know how anybody in their right mind can say anything bad against pushrod motors.

    OHC engines have their place, and so do pushrod engines.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    The pushrod 3.5 liter V6 I had in a Pontiac G6 rental last week on vacation most assuredly did not suck. It made good power and nice sounds.

    I expected the GM High Value motor to sound like absolute garbage compared to the DOHC six in my BMW. It held up well and I’d take the G6 over a boring Camry for sure if I was buying a used vanilla FWD sedan.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      This seems more revealing of the current state of BMWs than it is of the realities of G6s and Camrys. The G6 was an instant also ran when introduced. The Camry was the best selling car while the G6 was on the market as a cheap fleet filler. Claiming you’d take one over a Camry is like saying you prefer Caddyshack II to the original.

    • 0 avatar
      GarbageMotorsCo.

      You haven’t driven the V6 Camry then. It’s the fastest one in the segment and will embarrass cars costing thousands more. The “SE” model also buries any pre-concieved notions that the Camry is just a boring appliance. It handles pretty good, almost as as fun to drive as an Acura TL.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        I’m going to have to argue that point… Sure, the V6 Camry might be faster, but the power delivery is still a problem, its not very linear, its got way too much throttle tip-in, much like GM and Ford used to do to make thier cars “feel” faster. And as for the SE handling, sure, its better than the base Camry, but not sure I can call it “fun to drive”, I found the Fusion SE to feel more responsive. The Camry still feels like a big car, and the SE still feels too disconnected.

        Although, I havent driven a TL since the Type S was released, so you may very well be right that its equal to that car, from what I hear Acura has lost a lot of its sporting edge. But to go as far as claiming it buries the notion of it being an appliance… not quite.

        Just for the record, I still agree with both you and CJ, I would never choose a G6 over a Camry, even if it was a base 4 cyl! And I definitely prefer the original Caddyshack to the sequal! :)

  • avatar
    Ronman

    hmmm… those Cadillac comments aren’t very bright… especially when your marketing guys are working overtime trying to convince everyone that Cadillac is the Standard of the World…

    I believe Lincoln can be resurrected, only they need to sort out their stupid looking products…

  • avatar
    Type57SC

    Holy crap – he gave up $190MM paycheck from Carlyle for this job? I wouldn’t do that. You’ve got to at least admire his sense of duty if that’s true.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    God knows you want an accountant not an engineer if your goals are to improve the product and speed up product development. Wait, no, actually it’s the opposite isn’t it?

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Wait a minute…GM wanting to be like Toyota? Wasn’t Toyota copying GM for many, many years?

    That’s all well and good, but it seems up to now the “culture” of the company and of its workers does not come anywhere close. Not slamming the individuals, but the management sets the tone and expectation, and if they preach a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality, guess what? The true reality will be reflected on the workers on the shop floor and will be reflected on how the UAW will guide its members. People will perform if there is a sense of genuine pride and integrity all through the ranks, not just on placards and posters entitled “Mission Statement”.

    I sure hope for the sake of GM, it works this time. We’ll see…

  • avatar
    mike978

    His Cadillac comment, although probably it shouldn`t have been said in public, is likely to be a honest and accurate assessment. To expect Cadillac (or anyone else) to produce, at their first attempt (in recent times) a 3 series and a S-class beating competitor is unlikely. Lexus is still trying, Hyundai have just started etc.

    Akerson is arrogant (most, but not all, CEO’s are) but at least he is realistic in this regard. I hope for GM that he is accurate, realistic and honest on many other topics.

  • avatar

    like I said yesterday, Akerson’s comments are not a good sign. today he is quoted in the Detroit News as calling for a $1 per gal increase in tax. and we thought Lutz was a loose cannon…

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      If they used that $ to rebuild Americas infastructure I’d damn near be willing to swallow it!

      • 0 avatar
        SVX pearlie

        Agreed. If all gas tax revenues went back into transportation infrastructure, rather than general revenues, I’d back increases from here to eternity.

        If they’re just going to prop up welfare, no dice.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss (we do get fooled again)”

  • avatar

    I thought this was the most important takeaway from the 2-hour DetNews interview:

    “we ought to just slap a 50-cent or a dollar tax on a gallon of gas,” Akerson said.

    “People will start buying more Cruzes and they will start buying less Suburbans.”

    Does this guy know what GM’s margins are for vehicles in different segments?

  • avatar
    SupaMan

    The XTS I expected to be mediocre at best but the ATS? From the reports I’ve read about the chassis being overweight and asked to underpin various vehicles, I say he’s right about making that assessment. But to publicly project it is a mistake on his part.

    I also agree that Lincoln might as well close shop. Their products aren’t very competitive and with Lincoln dealers clamoring for new products with nothing competitive in the pipeline I don’t see them being a threat to the likes of BMW or Mercedes.

    And with Akerson’s statements about the XTS and ATS, Cadillac might as well get thrown in.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      “The XTS I expected to be mediocre at best but the ATS? From the reports I’ve read about the chassis being overweight and asked to underpin various vehicles, I say he’s right about making that assessment. But to publicly project it is a mistake on his part.”

      Yeah having driven a Lucerne I’d say the XTS sounds like a great replacement for the LUCERNE, as a Cadillac it’s a BAD IDEA. If GM is trying to make Cadillac a world class brand I’d rather see them stop selling the DTS for a few years while they develop the replacement. Although considering they cancelled the replacement for the Northstar V8, then I’d say that GM is all out of ideas.

      My worry for the ATS is… Does the world really need a Cadillac smaller than the CTS?

      • 0 avatar
        SVX pearlie

        The world can definitely use a small Caddy, if it’s a mid-engined sports car with a V-motor powering the rears (and fronts).

        That is, I believe the Cien is smaller than the CTS, and would make an excellent Caddy, especially in V form.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        Yeah having driven a Lucerne I’d say the XTS sounds like a great replacement for the LUCERNE

        The problem with the Lucerne is that the Lacrosse is a better car anyway, so where do you go from there? I suppose for increased width, but GM designers being who they are this will not be an airy car even in relaxed-fit mode.

        But yeah, the XTS shouldn’t exist, not when the STS is a few inches and a decent interior away from being a great car. I never got how GM could get the CTS right and yet fail on the STS and XLR.

        My worry for the ATS is… Does the world really need a Cadillac smaller than the CTS?

        No, but since they don’t have Pontiac, Saab or Saturn anymore it doesn’t really make sense elsewhere.

  • avatar
    segar925

    This dumbass wants to raise gasoline taxes by $1 per gallon, that should do wonders for the economy and new car sales.
    http://detnews.com/article/20110607/AUTO01/106070368/1148/rss25

  • avatar
    probert

    The comment about Cadillac is puzzling in that they seem to be the most interesting – and among the best – cars that GM makes. From what I hear they compete and compete well. The big engines may not “move needles” but they provide the halo. At this level people buy dreams not a reasonable assessment of their needs.

    What troubles me here is that Carlyle is huge in the military industrial complex. Ie: the welfare queen of welfare queens. Whether the skills needed to acquire taxpayer money can transfer to building a competitive product remains to be seen. My guess is no.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      No. Cadillac makes the CTS, which is the most interesting and maybe best car that GM makes. They also make a crappy blinged-out truck, an uninspiring and poorly-selling crossover, and a retireemobile. They’ve got two new products in the pipeline that are not looking particularly promising. The CTS can’t hold up the entire Cadillac brand by itself.

      • 0 avatar
        MikeAR

        You’re right, past the CTS they don’t offer anything reasonably attractive. It has always mystified me how the Escalade has done so well and the rest of the lineup is below average.

  • avatar
    MikeAR

    More garbage spewed from the mouth of the worst car company CEO ever.

    http://detnews.com/article/20110607/AUTO01/106070368/1148/rss25

    He really doesn’t have a clue. It’s like he is trying to alienate everyone but the most rabid GM fans. Maybe he thinks that GM is selling too many cars now.

  • avatar
    Bridge2farr

    The “Best and Brightest” at their “objective” best here! Free potshots at GM for everyone!

  • avatar
    MikeAR

    Pete DeLorenzo at Autoextremeist really lays into Dan today. It’s worth a read.

    http://www.autoextremist.com/

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Yes, but DeLorenzo judgement is rather suspect since Carmageddon. He, like a lot of D3 Inner Circle types, has a real problem with people from outside the car industry doing a better job than his peers.

      Ed Whitaker and the PTFoA more or less proved this by doing more to fix GM’s endemic management problems—in six months!—than GM itself could achieve in thirty years. I can’t say one way or the other about Akerson, but he can’t possibly be worse than Wagoner, Smith, Smale, Ruess, Stempel, Zarella and so forth.

      I’d give Peter more credence were he not so knee-jerk in this matter.

      • 0 avatar
        MikeAR

        Agree with you there Psar. DeLorenzo is a little bit of a crank and he was offended that no one at the automakers hired him as a white knight consultant to turn things around during the crisis. But he does make a lot of valid points and with Akerson’s mixed record at best, I think that he is more right than wrong in this case.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        I enjoy reading autoextremist too. DeLorenzo usually makes good points and is an equal opportunity offender (VW, Hyundai etc) but he does get stuff wrong. He thought Hyundai/Kia under Krafik would not do well and he regularly expounds on how VW will fail. Both seem unlikely at this time.


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