By most accounts, General Motors is on a roll. U.S. small car sales
were up a phenomenal 229 percent during the second quarter of 2013 versus the
same period last year, with sales of Chevrolet cars and Cadillacs up 31 percent
and 34 percent, respectively.
But according to Mark Reuss, president of General Motors North America, "there's no fist bumps and high fives" when it comes to California.
We caught up with Reuss to talk about GM's post-bankruptcy evolution and its plans to regain sales in the state.
Q. What happened to GM in California?
A. We were at one time very strong here, and over many decades we lost that market. We became a Midwest truck company. We had a really good dealer network at one time here, too. It was in the right places with the right demographics with the right products. Over a long period of time, we didn't offer the right products for the changing demographic, and our dealer network was no longer in the right locations with some of the right operators.
Q. How is GM fixing its products to better accommodate California customers?
A. It's been four years since the bankruptcy. In three years, we've been working on the dealership piece of it, getting the right facility appearance and changing the way we operate to be customer-centric again. The product piece you can see coming. California is a big truck market, and it's also a big alternative fuel and propulsion market.
Q. California accounts for 11 percent of U.S. passenger vehicle sales, so it's an important market for all manufacturers. Why is it crucial for GM?
A. It's important because this is a huge market. It also sets opinion across the country and perhaps even outside the country for what is good and relevant and desirable for automobiles. That's really important.
Q. California is also the No. 1 market for alternative fuel vehicles. How is the Volt doing for you here?
A. About 60 to 70 percent of Volts are sold right here in California. We'll sell 3,300 this month. As we take costs out of the car and lower the price, people accept it more. It's just hard to explain how it operates. We get lumped in with Leafs and everything else, and those are pure electrics with range anxiety.
Q. There are two theories about customers' embrace of alternative fuel vehicles. One is that green is becoming more mainstream and is here to stay. The other is that consumers lose their enthusiasm for "green" as the economy improves. Where does GM stand?
A. Unlike what we were before, which was a structural cost-reduction entity, we're now a revenue-generating entity. And if you're going to generate revenue, you have to be a company that has a portfolio that satisfies lots of different people and to be able to carry that on a relatively steady state through the ups and downs of taste changes, but there are permanent trends we need to be a part of. People's behaviors and attitudes shift. Sustainability, we have to be a part of it, and be a company that does it better than anybody else and offers the consumer more value around sustainability than anybody else. We're doing that with the Spark battery electric vehicle, to the Cruze diesel, to the Malibu with start-stop, to the Impala with E Assist, to the Volt. There's not one magical technology that will solve all of that, but if we can cut greenhouse gases and
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