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Akerson aims for GM to stand out from the crowd

August 18, 2011

Akerson aims for GM to stand out from the crowd

/ The Detroit News

General Motors Co. CEO Dan Akerson said he wants to keep competitors guessing.

That applies not only to new cars coming to market — like the electric Cadillac confirmed Wednesday — but also to the automaker’s showroom discounts and other market moves.

“I want to be a strong competitor, but I don’t want to be a predictable competitor,” said Akerson, who made a surprise visit Thursday to a gathering of Chevrolet owners in Bloomfield Hills. The Chevy owners were there to celebrate the brand’s 100th anniversary with a spin down Woodward Avenue.

Akerson and GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky also joined the procession, riding in a 1960s model convertible Corvette.

Akerson said the ELR two-door coupe will add a “little spice” to Cadillac’s lineup. The electric vehicle will help round out the luxury brand as it seeks to go global.

Asked whether it will have greater electric range than the Volt, Akerson said the ELR won’t be out for a couple years, and he hopes battery technology will improve by then.

GM said earlier this month that it would add a small car ATS and full-size XTS to the brand next summer.

“We think the ELR is really going to be something different,” he said.

About 100 Chevy owners joined in the parade, which started a little after 2 p.m. There were classic cars aplenty: 1970s Corvettes, convertible Bel Airs and overhauled Chevelles.

Akerson said he’s put some money down on a classic Corvette but it’s still a work in progress. He declined to say which model or year.

In a nod to Chevy’s future, about 50 Volt owners also joined the parade, some coming from as far away as Alabama and Texas.

Despite the festivities, market uncertainties continue to roil the American carmakers.

Japanese competitors hurt by the earthquake this spring will start to ramp up production in the third and fourth quarter and are expected to offer hefty vehicle discounts to lure buyers back into their dealerships.

“We’ll see what the market does and react,” Akerson said, declining to say whether GM will follow suit in offering incentives. “Sometimes we’ll be a counter puncher. Sometimes we’ll be more aggressive.”

“Right now, there is enough uncertainty in the marketplace that it would make me think twice about doing something too aggressive,” he added.

GM is also carefully watching its truck inventory, which has been far above the levels industry experts consider healthy.

Akerson said the automaker hopes to build in a cushion for when it has to take its three major plants off line to retool for the next-generation pickup trucks. It’s shooting for around 100 days’ supply of trucks.

“We’ve had a total medical exam on this issue,” he said. “We’ve walked around it about three times, come back around three times.”

“I think we’ve sized it about right,” he added.

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