KEITH CRAIN

A busy week at General Motors

COMMENTARY
Keith Crain is editor-in-chief of Automotive News.
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The U.S. government selling its last bit of stock in General Motors and making GM a free corporation should have been enough excitement for last week.

It was quite a journey, through bankruptcy and partial government ownership. The taxpayer cost was substantial but necessary to save the U.S. auto industry.

But the very next day, GM CEO Dan Akerson announced his early retirement. It was completely unexpected. Just to make things more exciting, the changes include a nonexecutive chairman from Cummins, the first female CEO of a global auto manufacturer, a New Zealander as president, a Brit as president of North America and a passionate car guy as head of product development worldwide.

Before the dust settled, GM fired its next salvo: It will become a sales-only company in Australia and New Zealand, ending Down Under manufacturing of Holden vehicles. And then it sold its 7 percent stake of PSA Peugeot Citroen and its 8.5 percent stake of Ally Financial.

Tim Solso, a veteran exec with lots of experience at Cummins, should be very comfortable as chairman of a company founded on manufacturing.

Mary Barra seems to have the complete support of both the board and company employees as CEO. It will be interesting to watch her succeed Akerson, who has quite a different style.

Dan Ammann, as president, will be able to bring a car enthusiast's point of view to Wall Street and the financial analysts. That's a smart move that will be better understood in the months ahead.

GM wanted a sales guy running North America, the company's most important region. It got one with Alan Batey, who has GM experience all over the world.

But when it's all said and done, product is still king. GM gave product development to its most savvy car guy. Mark Reuss is in the most important spot in the company. He too has the global experience to create products customers will want to buy.

Steve Girsky is returning from vice chairman to being a board member, where his wit and wisdom will continue to be appreciated. That's where he is probably most comfortable.

Regardless of what you thought about Akerson, he steered the corporation through some very tough seas. He was really getting the hang of it when he did what was right, retiring early to take care of family. Employees and dealers owe him a big debt.

In the New Year, we're going to see a different General Motors, here and around the world. It won't take long for each person to establish a distinct style.

As Akerson discovered, it's tough to change the direction of an aircraft carrier with a single rowboat. The fleet of newly promoted execs may find it a bit easier, as long as everyone agrees to row in the same direction.

You can reach Keith Crain at kcrain@crain.com.


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