DETROIT -- General Motors Co. CEO Dan Akerson said today that he wants to strengthen the automaker’s sometimes frayed relationship with its suppliers and dealers.
“The key focus for GM, and one of my personal priorities, is to improve relationships with our suppliers and our dealers,” Akerson told the 2011 Automotive News World Congress. “The hard truth is, GM didn’t always do a great job of listening to you in the past.”
Since becoming CEO last summer, Akerson, 62, frequently has vowed that GM won’t slip back into its old bad habits. Those include flooding dealers with too many cars and using bare-knuckled tactics with suppliers.
He said GM will be diligent in avoiding the overproduction that led the automaker to push too many vehicles into showrooms. And GM aims to produce a steady flow of “the best designed, best engineered and best products possible,” he said, in part by keeping costs down and debt low so the automaker can maintain its product-development schedules in good times and bad.
“We have to be able to invest in up cycles and down cycles,” he said.
More product development
Akerson said GM is fast-tracking some vehicle-development programs that were slowed by GM’s 2009 bankruptcy. He also said the company will increase its product-development budget this year to around $7 billion, from an annual rate of $5 billion in bankruptcy.
Akerson said he wants suppliers to “engage earlier in our vehicle development process so you can bring your expertise to our vehicles.”
In a question-and-answer session with Automotive News Editor-in-Chief Keith Crain, Akerson said the GM board was “stunned” when former GM CEO Ed Whitacre said last year that he was stepping down. Akerson took four or five days to accept the board’s offer to replace Whitacre, he recalled.
Akerson said he’s been taken aback by the media scrutiny that comes with the top job at the nation’s largest auto maker.
But his biggest surprise: He hadn’t realized the growth potential of the auto industry. He pointed to global light vehicle sales that are expected to surpass 90 millions units in 2014, up from less than 70 million in 2009.
“This is a growth industry,” he said. “That surprised me.”