‘New GM’ address by CEO Fritz Henderson | CAR Magazine

GM Technology Broadcast | CEO Fritz Henderson | CAR News

Published: 11 August 2009 Updated: 26 January 2015

Chief executive and president of General Motors Fritz Henderson is making a product announcement this lunchtime. Join us at 1.00pm BST for the latest news from GM in our live blog below. NB start from the bottom and work your way up for the real-time blog!

1.59pm: Game over

And that’s it. We’ll try and post the video of the press conference below once our technical gurus have sourced the footage.

1.56pm: Won’t R&D cutbacks in bankruptcy limit the appeal of GM cars?

‘The days of inadequate cars are over,’ claims Henderson. He says GM can’t afford to build rubbish small cars, a sideways nod to some of the cruddier cars from GM’s history books. So what is coming up in the long range? ‘As we went through bankruptcy, we pulled back on our capital spending… Especially on Hummer – which was a huge amount of spending – on Pontiac, Saturn and Saab… But we said we need to focus our resources on cars and crossovers. The money we spend on pick-ups and full-size utilities will be to make sure we meet the economy and towing needs of our users… Most of our spending will be on cars and crossovers… Doing a bunch of average products won’t win you anything… We have a lot of interesting things coming.’ Buick will be a smaller range, it won’t replicate the GMC range, says Henderson.

1.52pm: Hybrid strategy and the price of oil

How many Volts will be made? An annual volume of 60,000 vehicles in Gen 1 of the Volt, says Henderson. Now we’re talking about the problem of cheap gas prices. The GM CEO says that oil prices will continue to jump, because the recession will end and because world demand will recover. That’s why GM will back hybrids and range-extended hybrids – they put their eggs in one basket, but juggle different technologies for different markets.

1.45pm: Will diesel eventually become popular in the US?

Will diesels come to the US? ‘We have outstanding diesels in Europe… Will it come to the US?… Emissions standards will become much tougher in the next couple of years… Our view is we have the capability, but we’re putting our bets in the US on hybrids and improving the technology in our gas engines… If diesel becomes broader in its appeal, we can do it.’  Then – strewth – it’s Bob Lutz, the newly appointed VP of communications, who strikes up an argument backing gasoline engines in the US. It’s the first time I’ve seen Maximum Bob since he bowed out into retirement at Geneva. Now he’s back in ‘New GM’.

1.43pm: The state of the balance sheet

Will GM be profitable when it goes public? ‘We said in our bankruptcy filing we expect in 2010 to above break even, better than zero. We will be cash flow positive next year. In a pre-tax basis, then 2011.’

1.41pm: Why doesn’t GM subsidise the Chevrolet Volt?

Any chance that GM will subsidise the Volt in addition to the tax rebate of $7500? ‘We want volume… In order for us to be successful, we need volume…’ Sounds like Henderson is reluctant to subsidise the Volt, for understandable reasons. But apparently Honda subsidised every single Insight Mk1. A chicken-and-egg conundrum.

1.35pm: Logos, spin and advertising

Henderson is busy talking about the minutae of charging a Volt. But I’m struck by the 230mpg banner above his head – I guess we’ll see a lot more of this smiling electric plug logo masquerading as a zero in the 230mpg headline. I guess the controversy of these claims will run and run. Is electricity from a power station any cleaner than an ICE? I know the CAR Online community have strong views on this…

1.31pm: Why price the Volt so high?

Is GM damaged goods? ‘Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC are the four core brands… We don’t go the market as GM.’ Why would you price the Volt over $40,000 if it’s supposed to be a car for Everyman? ‘The cost is high, driven by the high cost of the battery and the motor…. Gen 1 will lead to Gen 2 and there’s even some work on Gen 3… The car will be available with a $7500 tax credit… And don’t forget we haven’t even priced it yet… We will price the vehicle as we come to market… And don’t forget it costs 40 cents to recharge.’

1.27pm: When will GM add more car production?

‘We are looking at adding production…. The last week of July is up 30-35% because of the cash-for-clunkers programme… We predict this will last through August and September.’ Henderson is confident that the inventories have been depleted and it sounds like production could be increased soon. ‘The market has hit the bottom and has started to bounce,’ says the CEO. Sounds like GM dealers are loving the government stimulus and credit is slowly becoming available in showrooms.

1.25pm: Will GM’s Voltec system work all around the world?

Time for questions about the Chevrolet Volt. Henderson says the plug-in hybrid is being tested in Arizona and Arctic conditions to make sure it works in hot and cold weather. Is GM over-promising by claiming 230mpg (US, not Imperial) in city usage? Henderson claims not. Sounds like the EPA methodology is highly complex – how long the EV mode lasts, how often the engine is running. This one could run and run.

1.20pm: The dealer bloodbath

How will getting rid of a third of GM’s dealers help the cause? Henderson says that the US dealers being axed are very low-volume outlets, ones that performed poorly on customer service or are attached to brands that are being dumped. ‘We will still have the biggest dealer network in small towns in the US.’ If ‘New GM’ has gone too far, Henderson vows to put it right in 2010.

1.16pm: What GM stands for

It’s Q&A now. Henderson is talking about his experience with GM customers. He’s in humble mode – talking about listening, rather than talking at customers. ‘How do we make GM great again? By being great in the market…. Not by having the most competitive discounts in the market, but by having the best cars, promoting them the best, by differentiating and doing what made GM great in the past: great styling… Value that people don’t expect… We should blow people away with what they get for the money.’

1.13pm: The ‘New GM’

‘We need to change the culture of GM,’ admits Fritz Henderson. The new board is introduced – most are present, although ex-Vauxhall boss Nick Reilly is unable to be there today. ‘Speed is the new hallmark of GM today,’ he says. The ‘New GM’ will be a much more nimble business outfit, promises Henderson. Sounds good. Old GM was large, monolithic, slow-moving. Not a good shape for a modern car maker.

They’re now inviting questions onTwitter via @gmblogs. Go on CAR readers – you know you want to!

1.11pm: How the new Chevrolet Volt will top 230mpg

Talk of the Chevy Volt: the US authorities have reached a draft legislation for how to rate fuel economy of plug-in electric vehicles. The Volt manages a triple-digit fuel economy figures, 230 miles per gallon around town, no less – according to the new draft figures. That’s why there’s an ad programme with a smiley electric plug doing the rounds in the US.

1.10pm: Unto us a baby Caddy is born

Cadillac announcements: in 2010, a new Coupe and Coupe V wiill be launched in the CTS range. Plus there will be a sub-CTS small Caddy – think BMW 1-series, and you won’t be far from the idea, we reckon.

1.08pm: 25 new vehicles due by 2011

‘It’s all about listening’, says the chief exec. He announces that the GM blog will be used better to garner customer feedback. ‘Customers will be at the centre of our universe,’ he promises. Plus we’re going to see core products from the four core GM brands – part of the 25 new vehicles being launched between now and 2011.

1.05pm: Why GM is selling cars on Ebay

Fritz Henderson says this webcast is primarily aimed at media and analysts. But yesterday they did a special event for customers – because ‘they come first’. That’s why GM is experimenting with selling cars in California through Ebay. ‘Customers will be able to buy vehicles just like they do with other products,’ says Fritz. ‘We want to make the online buying experience as easy as click-and-drive.’

1.03pm: Tweet tweet to GM, GM

Chris Pruess, chief PR spinmeister at new GM, is asking us to send in questions via Twitter. Ping away to @gmblogs if you have a question you want to ask. He’s introducing Fritz, who’s been at GM since 1984. Here’s the big news, we hope…

1.01pm: Fritz Henderson, chief executive of ‘New GM’

The chatter subsides as Fritz Henderson, GM chief exec takes to the stage. We’re promised an update on ‘New GM’ and its products, brand and customer programmes – plus one new product announcement. Let’s hope this is going to be interesting!



By Tim Pollard

Group digital editorial director, car news magnet, crafter of words