BREAKFAST WITH THE GENERAL
On Corvettes, Elmirajs and oil burners
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Sun, Sep 1, 2013
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
By Doug Stokes Breakfast with the GM Prez Ayres Hotel (near LAX) Earlier this week, LA Car was invited to breakfast with Mark Reuss, the President of General Motors North American operations. So what’s he like and what did he have to say? Well, first of all, for a top dog, he seemed pretty darn relaxed, his first words to us (truth be printed, it wasn’t exactly just me and him at a corner table … there were 50 or 60 others chowing down on GM’s food, as well as yours truly) were: “No major news today.” It was all uphill from there. Reuss then started with a date: September 8th, a couple of years back. He came back to the date about halfway though his 25-minute dialogue, as it turns out, that was the date that the Chevy Cruze hit the stores. He had a good bit of pride in his voice when he told us the Cruze was built here to go toe-to-toe with the World.
Twice during his wide-ranging post-breakfast talk Reuss mentioned (quiet clearly): “the old company” most notably when he was talking (again, with an unmistakable sense of pride in his voice) about the new diesel version of the hot-selling Cruze. The direct quote there was straightforward: “The old company would not have built it.” That was said a by a GM executive who has lived on both sides of the bankruptcy. Refreshing? You might say so. Oh yeah, the man intimated that there would be more compression-ignition engines under the hoods of GM vehicles in the future. (editorial note: If you haven’t figured it out yet, the author is a big fan of diesel power, and we have him scheduled to review the new Cruze Diesel in October) Reuss talked about the success of another model that the old company (and even some of the people in the current GM) might not have been so eager to green light: the Buick Encore. “We can’t build enough of them,” he told us. Another source of pride for Reuss was the percentage of new customers coming in to GM dealers who are trading in non-GM vehicles. They call those “conquest” sales, and they are very important to the GM Board that Reuss reports to. Mister Reuss also indicated that California sales were up a nice 8.5 percent and that GM is right smack in the middle of renewing, rebranding, rebuilding and generally refreshing all of their dealer outlets.
In the Q&A session, Reuss was asked about his thoughts on the “Tesla magic” Interestingly enough, he turns out to be something of a fan of the man (Elon Musk) as well as the machine; using the term “love” couple of times when talking about the culture of that company and their product. When asked how the Cadillac ELR compares, Reuss told us something that most already knew: “The ELR is very different and uniquely Cadillac.” Speaking of Cadillacs, Reuss mentioned the very well-received Cadillac Elmiraj. Just unveiled at Pebble Beach a week ago, the two-door is what we used to call a dream car. This one jumps off the screen (or printed page) and looks to be closer to reality than one might rightfully expect. During the talk, Reuss used a number of slides to illustrate some of his points (there was not one of the Tesla by the way) about new product and nice numbers and one slide kept popping up about every third or fourth rotation, it read: “Everything Starts and Ends With Great Products GM”. Consumer Reports concluding that the new Impala is the best new sedan that one can buy (period) makes the point. Reuss also pointed at his company’s Chevy Malibu’s fuel saving start-stop system that shuts the car’s motor off a stops, calling it the best in the business.
Asked about new and proposed Federal vehicle safety rules and upcoming California environmental regulations, Reuss told us that GM can meet them (he did not however, have anything boundless enthusiasm about it). By the way, he honestly thinks that GM does not get enough credit for the sort of work that his company has done in both fields. For the Southland crowd, there was a hint that we could count on something spectacular for the upcoming LA Auto Show. Something of a bold statement for a company that’s replaced or redesigned (and retired in a few cases) over 70 percent of its entire line-up over the past few years—but good to hear nonetheless. Reuss concluded with the notation that the stunning (black to my eye, but Chevy must have some very cool name for it like “Deep Midnight Sapphire” or “Total Eclipse Charcoal”) Corvette Stingray convertible we had all drooled over out front was “not a driveaway”—at least not for any of us there at breakfast (my guess is that Mister Reuss had that one pointed down the 405 toward the Magic Kingdom). No real news (yeah), but some good news about GM from a big boy who’s been there. Like his father before him, an automotive engineer by training who has risen to the top ranks in one of the world’s largest manufacturing companies, Reuss has what we like to think of as a car guy’s perspective (and enthusiasm) for the business. We liked that part of the breakfast best of all. - DS
POSTSCRIPT: A day or two after our little morning coffee with the boss, he stopped by the LA Times offices (yeah he was driving the ‘Vette … at least that’s what it looked like from the front page photo of him on the Saturday business section). Restating much of the Wednesday breakfast theme, he added a couple of notes about alternative fuels telling the Times to “Look for CNG (natural gas) for sure.” He also warned that, “Banking on battery breakthrough is very dangerous strategy,” concluding that the physics of cost versus size versus range is something that all automotive manufacturers will have to deal with for some time to come.