General Motors on Hyperdrive


Top executives of General Motors convened on a conference call to discuss the company’s response to the current federal investigation to the flagship vehicle of GM, the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid.

The call was led by GM CEO Daniel F. Akerson from his Virginia home during Thanksgiving. This was the first major crisis he has faced as CEO of America’s largest automaker. The call was done to act quickly and decisively on the issues.

Akerson was quoted as saying, “This could be a defining moment for us.”

After much debate, the executives decided to go public in its defense of the safety of the Volt. It even took a step further in offering free loaner cars to owners who are worried as to the results of the inquiry into the incidence of post crash fires in the lithium-ion battery pack of the Volt.

Market analysts say that GM’s moves are aggressive with a high potential for risk for a company undergoing a safety inquiry to one of its flagship vehicles. This is just one of the moves typical of the new face of management in the Detroit car culture. Outsiders such as Alan Mulally from Boeing took a job at Ford while Sergio Marchionne of Fiat instilled a new thinking in Chrysler.

Compared to the other CEOs, Akerson has made more waves to change the conformity and predictability deeply instilled in GM tradition. Upon assuming office, he said he is bent on defining himself as anything but a traditional auto executive. Many see him as impatient on obtaining results but find that his learning curve on balancing quick response as against the complexity of the industry is improving.

One such instance was the initial response of GM on the federal inquiry. When asked about the federal investigation, Akerson said that GM was willing to buy back Volts of concerned owners. Back at the head office, company spokespersons scrambled to explain the offer as a measure of goodwill and at the same time denying that the policy was done entirely on the fly. Since then, the GM CEO has been unavailable to the media.

For his part, Akerson said that his unconventional methods and outspoken style is different from his predecessors. He said, “I guess being new is both an advantage and a disadvantage because I kind of look at things a little bit differently than everybody else. I don’t have the history.”

Despite such pronouncements, the GM CEO is well aware of the company’s stigma of being slow and unresponsive. As a response, his first moves were to eliminate about thirty internal boards and committees that he saw as hampering the company’s ability to be attuned to the needs of its customers and client base. Since 2010 when he took the helm of the company, he has guided GM through its public stock offering and was instrumental in the success of the labor talks with the United Automobile Workers. Despite such successes, he still has a long way to go, from solving the Volt’s battery problems to keeping the modest successes of the company after its bankruptcy and bail out just a couple of years ago.