Filling the void
GM has not appointed a replacement for LaNeve. Henderson said the company will make some changes in its sales division as it replaces LaNeve.
“We are open to bringing in outside talent,” Henderson said. “We are working with Washington to finalize how we pay people and our compensation packages. Prior to bringing in people from the outside, we need to be able to explain how we pay people.”
Henderson said that doesn't mean GM will definitely replace LaNeve from the outside. It just means it is an option.
“We need to move on the sales job, and we'll consider all our options,” Henderson said. “I do think there's a benefit to us bringing in people from the outside in all areas of our company.”
Until GM replaces LaNeve, Jim Bunnell will continue to head GM's dealership consolidation plans. Bunnell is executive director of sales operations.
LaNeve began his career at GM, serving as brand manager for the Pontiac Bonneville and working for Cadillac. He left in 1997 to become vice president of marketing and later CEO of Volvo Cars of North America. He returned in May 2001 as general manager of Cadillac and became GM North America vice president of marketing and advertising in September 2004.
Although he arrived from Volvo after Cadillac's turnaround strategy was in place, LaNeve moved it forward aggressively. Most notably, he replaced lackluster advertising efforts with the "Break Through" advertising campaign featuring Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" -- a sharp departure for the geriatric brand.
Moving to head GM advertising and then overall North American sales and marketing, LaNeve tried to remold GM's pricing structure by cutting sticker prices and incentives. The move was, in part, aimed to improve residuals, which are calculated on sticker price rather than selling price, penalizing companies that heavily discount vehicles.
That was part of a larger effort to strengthen GM's brand images and gain consideration from non-GM owners. But despite some progress in cutting incentives and fleet sales, GM had to resort to massive incentive programs like "Employee Price for Everyone" in the summer of 2005, reinforcing its image as a deep discounter.
Under LaNeve, GM launched some high-quality cars that got successful marketing such as the Chevrolet Malibu and Chevrolet Camaro. But GM's marketing also drew criticism -- some from within the company -- when acclaimed vehicles like the Saturn Aura, launched in 2006, failed to meet expectations.
The Aura won North American Car of the year in 2007. GM hoped the Aura would sell over 100,000 units annually, but its full-year sales averaged just under 60,000. GM will be winding down the Saturn brand by next year.
Under LaNeve's watch dealers often complained their margins were narrowed. But on a positive note, his discipline on fleet sales and incentive spending lead to steadily growing transaction prices and residual values year after year.
LaNeve will likely be most remembered for being the one to terminate 1,350 dealerships nationwide during GM's 39 days in bankruptcy court this past summer.
Calling it one of the hardest things he's ever had to do, LaNeve insisted that the move will increase individual dealers' sales, allowing them to better reinvest in their stores and improve GM's brands overall. Time will tell if LaNeve's prediction will hold true.
Dave Guilford and Chrissie Thompson contributed to this report