Rick Wagoner:

White House Ousts GM's Wagoner – Questions Viability

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President Barack Obama delivered an address to the nation this morning at 11AM where he summarized the results of review of General Motors and Chrysler by The Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry. The conclusion of the report was that neither of the plans presented to the Task Force by GM and Chrysler are viable.
Wagoner Gone – Replaced by Henderson: Immediately, General Motors’ Chairman Rick Wagoner was let go to be replaced by Fritz Henderson – a very capable and experienced senior executive. Clearly, the Task Force determined that the GM plan did not go far enough. GM now has another sixty days to rework the plan and come back with a viable approach. If they do not, the government can move the Corp into bankruptcy to get its house in order.
Our question is “What will GM’s brand and vehicle line profile look like on June 1?”
Chrysler and Fiat Agree to the Framework of a Tie-Up: Minutes after Obama’s speech, Chrysler announced the it had reached developed a framework for a tie-up with Fiat with the blessing of the Treasury Department. Fiat receives a third share of Chrysler for technology sharing allowing Chrysler to launch competitive new products based on Fiat powertrains and platforms. This is needed to keep Chrysler competitive. Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli keeps his job because he has been at the helm for a relatively short time (since August 2007) compared with Wagoner’s eight years at the helm.
Government to Guarantee Warranties (Warrantees): Obama stated that beginning today the warranties offered by GM and Chrysler are stronger than they have ever been because they would be guaranteed by the government. Also, adopting a spelling not seen for decades, the government refers to these plans as “warrantees”. This support by the government is to create confidence in purchasing a new General Motors or Chrysler vehicle today.
Other Actions – Tax Credits, Scrappage Plans, Etc: Obama also mentioned the sales tax credit for purchasing a new vehicle that has been approved by Congress. Pending are plans for incentives to scrap older, gross polluters.
Further Question: Ford: Ford Motor Company has not taken part in government loan guarantees having planned financially for tough years back in 2006. While Ford is struggling like GM and Chrysler it does not seem to be hurt as much in the market as they are. Market share is not down as much.
How will Ford be impacted by the statements of the President, The Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry, and the restructuring forced on GM and Chrysler by the government? Will Ford thrive or continue to struggle?
Another Question: Financial Company CEOs: Rick Wagoner fell on the sword for General Motors performance during his tenure but you can argue that the performance of the financial community has been much worse and much more damaging to the economy. Where can we see the heads of the banks, investment banks, and insurance company CEOs rolling down Main Street?


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LA Auto Show – 2008 Buick Enclave: Tiger Helps Launch Buick's Future

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At the legendary car-designer school, Art Center College of Design, in Pasadena, California, and with the assistance of legendary golfer and Buick spokesperson Tiger Woods, GM boss Rick Wagoner introduced Buick‘s next big thing. And big it is. Nearly as long as a Tahoe, Buick’s Enclave is one direction for the future of crossover SUVs and people movers in this country. With seats for seven or eight, standard front-drive and optional all-wheel-drive, and contemporary styling, the Enclave has what it takes to bring the brand into the modern automotive market. The production Enclave takes a look very close to the concept introduced at the Detroit auto show in January this year (click here), to our view a very good thing.

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While the relatively new LaCrosse and Lucerne have more to offer in dynamics and style than Buick sedans of the late 1990s, they follow the same, generations-old family sedan formula. It is more difficult to create buzz or change the image of Buick dramatically by bringing out a new four-door sedan. And Buick’s first attempts at SUVs seemed at best afterthoughts. Buick’s Rendezvous, a Pontiac Aztek-based ungainly entry, almost had what it took. Then came Rainier, a version of the Chevrolet TrailBlazer/GMC Envoy. Rainier is a decent mid-size SUV, but it launched well after its siblings and isn’t significantly different from the competition.
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Enter Enclave, driven tonight through a purpose-built wall by Woods and Wagoner. Enclave gives Buick a chance to bust out of the doldrums in the SUV and crossover SUV landscape with a stylish, usable, and modern entry. Buick’s General Manager Steve Shannon describes the Enclave as “the new face of Buick and everything we want in future Buicks.” We haven’t driven Enclave yet, but it promises to offer driving dynamics tuned for real-world use. This means solid acceleration and passing power and the capability to handle dirt roads and inclement weather as well as the ubiquitous mall parking lot. Power is from a 275HP 3.6L V6, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, which should give even this heavy product reasonable oomph. Buick is hoping consumer reaction is as strong as that of the media, who flocked around the vehicle as soon as the formal presentation was over.
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Let's Talk Cars: Alaskan Pipeline Trouble, the Future of E85 and BMW's New Hybrid Deal

Welcome to “Let’s Talk Cars”

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This week, Let’s Talk Cars sees David Barrett sitting down with AutoPacific’s Vice President and Senior Analyst Jim Hossack for their bi-monthly chat. On tap – British Petroleum’s disintegrating Alaskan Pipeline, Walmart getting into the E85 game, waning interest in motorsport, GM’s CEO Rick Wagoner, and the new GM/Chrysler/BMW Hybrid deal.
First up, how will BP’s announcement of deteriorating pipelines and their subsequent shut-down in Alaska effect prices at the pump? David asks Jim that plus his thoughts on Walmart getting into the fuel selling business with a new commitment to the eco-friendly E85. What is E85? Don’t worry, Jim will explain everything.
What’s the future of motorsport when it seems every series out there is going for one engine, one tire, and one cookie cutter package? David and Jim share their opinions.
Jim Hossack and other executives at AutoPacific had the opportunity to lunch with Rick Wagoner, CEO of the embattled General Motors. Find out his impressions. And speaking of GM, they’ve decided to take on some partners – BMW and DaimlerChrysler to be exact – in an effort to develop a new hybrid engine that will work in larger American trucks and SUVs.
David and Jim have a full plate this week, so tune in!
Show Rundown
01:08 British Petroleum’s Alaskan Pipeline
03:08 The Future of E85
06:50 Motorsport’s Fading Manufacturers
10:28 An Afternoon spent with GM’s Rick Wagoner
13:52 The New Hybrid from GM/DaimlerChrysler/BMW


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GM's Rick Wagoner Takes PR Swing Through SoCal

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Steve Harris, General Motors’ Vice President of Communications, is known for aggressively getting the company’s message out. Last week the General Motors corporate jet was hopping around Southern California. Rick Wagoner, GM’s Chairman was aboard with an entourage of varying size depending on where they were going. As near as we can judge, he was in Los Angeles on Monday having an seance with the Los Angeles Times and other media types.
On Tuesday morning he jetted up to Bakersfield to open a new $10 million facility for a top Chevrolet dealer there. On Tuesday afternoon he was talking to a bunch of researchers and analysts in a LAX airport hotel. Heck, even ol’ Dave Power, scion of J.D. Power & Associates, was there. Jim Hossack and George Peterson represented AutoPacific.
Wouldn’t Want Wagoner’s Schedule on a Bet
Following the analysts’ discussion and an afternoon of more activities, they hopped back on their jet and were to land in Detroit the following morning at 430AM. And, lo and belold, Wagoner was next seen on the following day in Traverse City announcing the new Camaro. Man, wouldn’t want his schedule.
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Wagoner began with a short download on how GM is doing today. He readily admits that they have a lot of work to do in their publicly announced restructuring, but contends that they have made good progress. They are “well ahead” of their objective to reduce hourly head count that is “expensive, but necessary”. A fifty-minute Question and Answer session followed. Wagoner seemed honest and forthright, not spinning the usual transparent BS that comes so often from company heads.
Kerkorian and Renault/Nissan Nicely… Ummmmm, Avoided
Wouldn’t talk about the potential relationship with Renault and Nissan but admitted that there may be some synergies on the product and purchasing side of the business. While you know this is really on the top of his mind, “Can’t talk about it”. Wagoner did say that the teams working on the issue would be reporting in about 60 days. That puts it in early October.
Saturn Repositioning on the Horizon
One of the more interesting discussions was on the repositioning of Saturn. After being neglected and starved ever since its launch, Saturn is about to become a very important part of the General Motors portfolio. Appealing to lowest common denominator buyers who generally thought of a car as a necessary evil and bought through Saturn because it was easy, Saturn became a cipher in the market. In the coming months, Saturn adds the mid-size and more upscale Aura, the Saturn Vue Green Line hybrid, the high performance Vue Red Line (Vue is Saturn’s SUV). In addition to the Aura, perhaps the most important addition to the Saturn lineup is the Lambda crossover vehicle – the Outlook. The Outlook is a large crossover with distinctive styling – even though it shares its platform with the GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave.
Wagoner cautions Saturn dealers, however, not to expect bargain basement pricing anymore. Saturn evolves into a General Motors’ premium brand along with Cadillac, HUMMER and Saab. This will be an interesting one to watch.


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GM, Renault, Nissan in Possible Tie-up

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The buzz around the global auto industry on Friday June 30 was that a possible tie-up between General Motors, Renault and Nissan was being seriously discussed by GM’s board. A meeting held on June 20 in Nashville (Nissan North America’s new headquarters) between Kirk Kerkorian, Jerry York and Carlos Ghosn explored possible relationships. Kerkorian’s Tracinda Corp. owns 9.9% of General Motors – the 4th largest shareholder – and Jerry York, Kerkorian’s right hand man, is Tracinda’s representative on GM’s Board. Carlos Ghosn is chairman of Renault and chairman of Nissan. Could he also become chairman of General Motors and then rule the auto world with 25% of the global market?
GM’s Board had a urgently called telephone conference on Friday to discuss the issue. No news yet.
General Motors Share Price Skyrockets
GM’s share price rocketed 8.6% on Friday on the news and skeptics opined that Kerkorian had orchestrated the news to win back the losses his investment in GM has taken over the past year. Others saw this as another wake-up call to Rick Wagoner that the restructuring of General Motors is not moving fast enough and that someone like Carlos Ghosn is needed to impersonally and analytically cut through the inertia that faces the General. Admittedly, Rick Wagoner has one of the toughest jobs on the planet and steering GM is like steering the Titanic. It cannot change direction quickly. But Ghosn demonstrated that you can turn around a huge ship – Japan’s second largest carmaker Nissan returned to profitability two years following Ghosn taking the helm.
Personalities, Personalities, Personalities
Think about the personalities. Wagoner the low-key professional chairman trying to improve the General incrementally. Bob Lutz the charismatic product czar of GM whose impact is just beginning to be seen in newly introduced products. Jerry York the impatient financial wizard from Chrysler/IBM/Tracinda who is delving into GM’s operations. Kerkorian the “long term investor” trying to make a risky investment a sure thing. Carlos Ghosn another charismatic exec credited singlehandedly with saving Nissan. Wow! This is fun!
Don’t Forget China
Oh, don’t forget. GM has a solid presence in China and Renault and Nissan much less so. This tie up could really benefit Renault and Nissan in China.
Stay Tuned
Stay tuned. This will play out quickly over the next week or so. Is Kerkorian just playing with his share price? Is he really able to goose GM into accelerating its restructuring? Will any sort of relationship develop between GM/Renault/Nissan? Between Wagoner/Lutz/Kerkorian/York/Ghosn?


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