His deep, slow-moving Texan drawl belies his razor-sharp acumen, but the biggest surprises to come out of Ed Whitacre's briefing today ahead of the 2010 Detroit Auto Show are his sense of humor and his frank yet optimistic outlook on GM's future. For instance, Whitacre believes GM will be profitable in 2010.
Profitability, small cars and the luxury segment
He's not sure if profitability is really within reach, but when asked if GM would be profitable in 2010, he responded simply, "I'm hoping so...My prediction is we will be."
How does he think they'll get there? By taking advantage of opportunities in the small-car and luxury segments, to start. The upcoming all-new Aveo and the hotted-up Aveo RS are expected to be big hits, but it will remain for the market reaction after their reveal at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show to be sure. The Cadillac XTS, due for production in 2012 after its own Detroit debut, will give Cadillac a flagship sedan to rival the S-Class and 7-Series--on size and features, at least, if not on price.
Early small-scale Volt release possible
Another aid, at least to the company's image, if not to the bottom line, will be the long-awaited Volt, finally due to hit retail sale in November. During the briefing, Whitacre hinted that GM is considering a small-scale consumer roll-out of the car--probably to high-profile citizens and "image leaders"--ahead of the general market launch. This would be in addition to the planned early distribution of small fleets to partners in the energy field.
Saab on the way out
As for Saab, Whitacre says the company has done "everything humanly possible" to sell the brand. Why hasn't it sold then? "It's real easy--just show up with the money and you can have it. Nobody's come with the money," said Whitacre, "so we're in the wind-down mode." The date for the brand's closure, barring someone showing up with a wheelbarrow full of gold, is January 31.
And GM's new CEO will be...
The CEO hunt also came up, briefly, with Whitacre responding to the question of Tim Cook, Apple's CFO, as a possible candidate by asking, "Who is he?" The short of it was that the CEO search agency was busy putting its list together, and that GM hadn't had the feedback session with them yet--so Cook may not be out of the running, but he's definitely not on Whitacre's radar. New CFO hire Chris Liddell was mentioned as a possible candidate for the CEO position, however.
According to Whitacre we'll likely see the reinstatement of "hundreds" of dealers cut loose in the reorganization. Whitacre wasn't firm on the number, but he did say it would be "significant." The dealers are no doubt glad to hear it, but slimming down its oversized distribution network goes hand-in-hand with reducing excess inventory, so don't expect a full reversal of the terminations. In a market selling 11-12 million cars total, there just isn't enough room for the dealers supported by a 15-16 million car industry.