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An Icon for an Industry

Mark Reuss talks about GM’s renaissance and its influence on the industry.

Pages 12-15

Mark Reuss grew up in the auto industry. The son of a former GM president and a teenage intern at the Milford Proving Ground, he has served as the chairman of GM’s Australian operations, and since December 2009, president of General Motors North America. At 50, Reuss has helped lead a remarkable four year turnaround as the industry emerged from its darkest days, including federal assistance and a managed bankruptcy. On the eve of the North American International Auto Show, which opens to the public on Jan. 18 only a few blocks away from GM headquarters, Reuss sat down with Detroit Regional Chamber President and CEO Sandy Baruah to talk about the recent past and what lies ahead.

 

Sandy Baruah: You had a little bit of news last week – Automobile of the Year for the Corvette and for the CTS, Motor Trend’s Car of the Year. What does that mean to GM?

Mark Reuss: Well, this is a long-term business. It doesn’t just happen. This was really a post-bankruptcy focus on excellence. We focus on taking the best car in segment that we compete against and beating it. I think the Corvette, when we introduced it last year, really was the turning point for the new company. We planted the flag again for GM. The CTS, we’ve been working in luxury for many years. We’ve had cars that were different in size, different in design. We can now price. We can now go at performance head-to-head with identical competitors and win. I believe our competitive advantage … is providing sort of that magical integration – ride, handling, braking, noise and vibration, safety.

SB: I remember growing up seeing pictures of the World’s Fair in 1964 when they unveiled the Mustang, and there were those throngs. When I went to the Auto Show last year that is exactly what it looked like (at the Corvette exhibit). Have you ever seen anything like that?

MR: I really never have. The excitement of Corvette with the new C7. We had the aluminum frame sitting there and people were like, ‘Wow. This is going to be incredible.’ But no one had driven the car yet, so the excitement was purely around the design and the materials.

SB: What are the three key factors to GM’s renaissance?

MR: I think customer service excellence that’s one of them. We have got to have product excellence for a long period of time, and I believe our quality has got to be recognized better than anybody else as well. Those three things.

SB: Product and quality are two areas where you are really on a roll right now. Your customer service, your J.D. Power scores are looking really good.

MR: Really good. On the quality and the product, but also we’re ranked 1, 2 and 3 on the J.D. Power customer satisfaction at the dealership.

SB: The domestic industry is on a roll, but for a time it lost its way. What leads you to believe that this resurgence is going to be more permanent?

MR: I think from a GM standpoint if we introduce a car that is okay it will not do well, and that is a big change. We got by with products that were average or worse because of the reputation we had early as a company and the loyalty of our customers. We earned all those things that happened to us by producing those mediocre to bad vehicles. To earn those customers back is really hard. However, for the last four years we have had nothing but conquest sales, and we’ve done pretty well.

SB: Prior to the CTS announcement, you had two big unveils. You had the Corvette, and the Impala was the car that at the rental car parking lot you would pick it up and think, ‘Oh, one of these again.’ Now, Consumer Reports says it’s the best American full-size car you can buy. GM is focused on gaining back customer approval by improving product quality, enhancing customer service, and attracting the best and brightest talent. Thanks to the recent strides in product quality, the Cadillac CTS won Motor Trend’s 2014 Car of the Year award. This exciting news shows that GM has planted the flag in luxury vehicles in America and worldwide. Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, interviews Mark Reuss about GM’s remarkable turnaround.

MR: No. No. No. The best sedan you can buy. Period. Not best American. Not best full-size. No, it’s the highest scoring sedan ever, which is kind of hard for people to process because our image is what you just said.

SB: So, you took an icon and reimagined it with the Corvette. With Impala, you took a brand that was a little long in the tooth and made it world class. Which excites you more?

MR: I think about what it does for the longterm health of the company, internally. They’re both remarkable rallying points for everybody who works on them. But from a belief standpoint, for people to say that we can make the best sedan, that’s really unexpected and profound for the lifelong sustainability of the company.

SB: GM had more big news recently with the announcement that Mary Barra will become CEO, and you will replace her as executive vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain.

MR: Mary and I have grown up together at GM, and she is going to do a fantastic job. I couldn’t be any happier for her or prouder of her. And I’m very excited to be succeeding her in leading GM’s global product development, a job that feels like going home’ to me. It’s always been my dream job.

SB: A company is only as good as the people who work in it. How do you, as GM, attract the best and brightest talent?

MR: We get a really great kind of person who wants to be part of turning around an American icon, number one. And number two, doing it in a place that isn’t the most attractive city from a public perception standpoint. You can talk about the pay structure and all that stuff until the cows come home. But if you are a young person, and you have the chance to be part of something that is really going to change an American city that once was the Arsenal of Democracy that defined and provided the middle class for the whole country. And you describe it that way and you say, Look at what we’re doing and look at what’s happening and look at all of that. Do you want to be part of that?’ If you don’t want to be part of that, that’s fine. If it’s too hard, that’s fine. But you get the kind of people who don’t say it’s too hard, who want to be part of that. Those are the kind of people we want.

SB: Looking at the city for a minute, GM has been a tremendous force for good in Detroit and the region. Of all the civic engagement that GM participates in, which are the ones that you are personally most passionate about?

MR: I think it’s our Student Corps that we did last summer, and the United Way grant for the high schools here. Over at Hamtramck at Veterans Park, there was the war memorial. You couldn’t even tell what it was. They cleaned up the whole war memorial. They did all the tennis courts – patched the tennis courts, painted the tennis courts. They painted the original stadium, the (Hamtramck Stadium) that’s still standing there. It’s phenomenal.

SB: If you could pick one car that represents what Mark Reuss stands for, what would it be and why?

MR: I think it’s not quite out yet. I can’t talk about it. I live in the future, so it’s hard for me. But then I would say in our stable today, I think I’m most proud of CTS Vsport. It’s the lightweight, the high power density, the precision instrument that you get in and drive every day. The engineering that goes into the braking and chassis is just phenomenal. To me, to be number one with that car against people who have been doing it for a long time is pretty special.

SB: Congratulations.