Reuss proves execs can say 'what if' and 'I don't know'

Edward Lapham is executive editor of Automotive News.

MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. -- Mark Reuss proved that he’s going to be his own kind of GM president in a speech that encouraged, teased and challenged Michigan’s movers and shakers to work together to restore the city of Detroit, and GM, to their traditional, long-standing positions of technological leadership.

The Thursday night speech, which Reuss subtitled "what if," suggested that GM might be prepared to make Detroit the North American pilot site for the automaker’s Electric Networked-Vehicle, or EN-V, personal pod transportation system if the business community plus local, state and federal governments will be partners.

Reuss floated the idea at the Mackinac Policy Conference sponsored by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce. The first EN-V pilot is slated for Shanghai, which came up with a lot of local support.

This morning during a meeting with a small group of reporters, Reuss said a couple of local leaders -– he didn’t identify them -- already had told him they want to do it. But he also said he had no idea what it would cost or whether the feds would come to the party.

Not only was his pie-in-the-sky speech a radical departure for auto execs, Reuss isn’t afraid to say "I don’t know’" when he doesn’t.

And as a second generation GM exec who grew up in the area, Reuss says he feels a personal responsibility for repaying the local support GM during its tough times. "I’m tired of being ashamed of where I live," he told us. "It shouldn’t be that way."

Reuss, who personally is involved in local efforts to improve education and other volunteer efforts, said he has made it easier for GM employees in to do volunteer work in their own communities, and that GM financially supports the charities where its employees volunteer.

But beyond the leadership, volunteerism and what-ifs, he’s still a car guy. Reuss drove himself up here from Detroit, making the four-hour drive in a Corvette rather than flying in a private plane the way many corporate honchos do. And he told me he also drove from Detroit to Indianapolis last weekend for the Indy 500.

He likes to drive. Reuss usually spends five hours on Friday driving GM vehicles that are in various stages of development and tooling around in competitors’ products -- strictly for benchmarking purposes, mind you.

The one thing I found hard to believe: Reuss told me he kept the Vette between 70 and 75 mph on the way here. "I was a good boy," he said.


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