Mark Reuss has had a huge challenge being at the helm as President of North America at General Motors. An engineer by trade, Mark has the monumental task of overseeing the legendary brands Billy Durant put together to form GM and bring them to resurgence in the main market that matters to the tax payers who made the sacrifice begrudgingly, under the stewardship of President Barack Obama, to rescue the iconic brands that have been the backbone of America for generations. The slogan goes “the Heartbeat of America, that’s today’s Chevrolet” but in 2008 that heartbeat had a hard time finding a pulse.
Ransom E Olds started mass automobile manufacturing in Detroit and his brand, Oldsmobile had long been eliminated in the long quest to restructure GM. General Motors, the scion of Billy Durant, has meant everything to America for generations. Billy Durant was a true visionary, a legendary figure in automotive history. As founder of GM, his approach of combining companies and brands still underpins the structure of GM to this day. Billy Durant started GM in 1908 and in so doing, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and Ransom E. Olds Company were combined to form one of the most dynamic companies of its day. Billy Durant started out in coachbuilding with a horse-drawn carriage business and was tenacious working with people like David Buick the founder of Buick, and Henry Leland the founder of Cadillac to build a company that eternally transformed the automotive landscape globally. Billy Durant worked with legendary names in business management like Alfred P. Sloan and Walter P. Chrysler who added to the volumes of textbooks on how to manage an enterprising free market system.
GM, though late to the party of automobile manufacturing became number one and the global standard above all in its way. To the victor goes the spoils, but so do the burdens and the legacy of costs associated with becoming the world’s number one auto company, which overcame GM in 2008. Prior to the 2008 collapse, the decision to shutter Oldsmobile in 2004 had already taken place and the symbolic implications were devastating, as Oldsmobile with the Curved Dash Olds was the first mass market car out of Detroit. Ransom E Olds was also the forefather of American auto manufacturing. The impact of the financial collapse of 2008 claimed the Hummer, Saab, Pontiac, and Saturn Brands. The world has fundamentally changed, yet the resilience and brilliance of the new management of GM and the hard workers of GM have turned around GM’s position and recorded the greatest profit in company history in 2011, affording the company capital for a profit-sharing payment that evolved out of the new labor agreement with workers getting a check for up to an additional $7,000 last March. The recovery of GM is remarkable as it is part of a larger narrative of the domestic automotive market with a 40% plus increase in sales from 2009 when 10.4 million cars were sold to the projected 14.5 million this year.
I had the pleasure of grabbing a moment with Mark Reuss and spoke to him about the rapidly evolving customer base, as Millennials have come online with their desire for technology and their different viewpoint on automotive needs. Our dialogue is below.
OI: So how about those two cars there – the 130 and the 140? Talk about their architecture. How do you see that fitting the target demo?
MR: The two cars that you’re looking at here – we decided that we’re going to – you know GM doesn’t have a really good track record of sort of selling and developing cars to different generations than my generation of Midwest, middle age or – I don’t know, whatever – guys sitting in a conference room, so probably not the best folks to judge what the next generation really wants so we partnered with MTV to look at people you know that are 11 to 30 years old which is the millennial generation and went out and really thought about this in a different way. We talked to probably 9,000 people in this generational span. It’s about 80 million strong. 40 million of those people have money right now to buy a car and so you know we want to look at this differently. You know, this isn’t something that…I would dream up, sitting in Detroit and that’s sort of the point. I think they’re both really neat and attractive, but more importantly, that generation thinks coupes either from a front-wheel drive, almost exotic design standpoint or from a rear wheel drive standpoint are something that’s very compelling to them. So, that’s really what we did here. We’ve got, you know, a little voting station there for you to go in and tell them how old you are and what you like and we’ll compile that and look at the comments and maybe we’ll build one of these so that’s where it’s at. We’re taking it all across the country. It’s kind of fun.
OI: So how do you envision something like your MyLink technology especially when you’re talking about that generation? How do you see that going in? And obviously that comes into play with the price point, with the product planning, getting the right fit, getting the right manufacturer so you can put the product out?
MR: It is…I mean we wouldn’t go and invent a whole architecture on this because we really don’t have to. We’ve got plenty of architectures to leverage, you know. This is a front-wheel drive-type architecture off of close to Delta in size, so 1.4 liter turbo. It’s very fuel-efficient, very fun, very light, you know and then you look at a rear wheel drive architecture there. That architecture, whatever we would do that, if we did it, would have to be very, very light as well because again we’re looking at smaller displacement engines that are very fun to drive. The MyLink piece of it, you know, we’re gonna put the money – at the end of the day, sort of the end game on a lot of this stuff – the phones, the things that people interact with at that age is quite different than what I did when I was that age. We’d jump in a car and go see our friends, right. I mean now you pick up your iPhone and you have iChat or Skype or Face- I mean, I know, we’ve done it all. It’s quite different so you gotta be able to take that with you. It doesn’t’ mean you have to operate it in the car all the time when you drive. That’s not what I’m talking about, but having a portable and interface-able with the car and very easy, safe ways is probably the – sort of the end game of that ’cause it changes must faster than anybody can change the true hardware in the center of the car. So you gotta set the car up to be able to adapt to all those things and that’s really the difference I think than what you’ve seen and some of the more mature products that deal with a different generation. This is really flexible with what we think will happen in the portable technology piece of it so you know those are the kind of things we’ve got back us.
OI: So probably a lot of customization, too, then I guess?
MR: I think so although, you know…yeah there’s customization from…
MR: …Absolutely. We can’t do enough of those because as people get a little bit of money in their pocket I think, you know, when they want to make their car look or perform different from someone else they got to be able to do it quick and at a very reasonable price to do it.
OI: I know you guys did like some wheels with Dub at a point in time before.
MR: Yeah we did. We’ve done a lot of things. You see the Sonic Z-Spec should be here somewhere. That’s got a lot of customization dialed into it so…a lot of fun things.