The auto maker posts another profitable year and continues to make investments in the U.S. and emerging markets. The good news in Europe, executives say, is early restructuring efforts are showing modest results.
GM Chairman, CEO Dan Akerson oversees strong profitability, executive churn in 2012.
Highlights of the year’s major events affecting:
- General Motors begins 2012 by reporting an eye-popping $7.6 billion profit for 2011. But the resounding evidence of the auto maker’s restructuring from its 2009 bankruptcy is overtaken by news of its difficulties in Western Europe.
GM Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson promises an exhaustive overhaul of Adam Opel, the auto maker’s long-struggling German subsidiary made doubly weak by the sovereign debt crisis gripping Europe. GM’s efforts to execute Opel’s turnaround will continue throughout the year, including persistent rumors the unit is up for bid.
- GM announces plans for a $200 million stamping facility at its Arlington, TX, large SUV assembly plant. The investment will accommodate production of its redesigned pickup trucks coming in 2013 and take on work previously performed at other GM sites.
- CEO Dan Akerson testifies before the U.S. Congress on the safety of the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle. The National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. in 2011 investigated the possibility of battery fires in a crash.
The car is deemed safe, but as Akerson tells lawmakers, in the process it has been turned into a “political punching bag.” Later in the month, GM announces safety enhancements to the Volt.
- GM Vice Chairman and longtime engineering executive Tom Stephens retires. Stephens most recently had served as the auto maker’s chief technology officer, a position research and development chief John Lauckner adds to his responsibilities.
- Mary Barra, senior vice president-global product development, joins the Opel supervisory board, replacing Walter Borst. The move further emphasizes the direct role GM’s top executives will play in turning around the unit.
Steve Girksy, GM’s vice chairman, Chief Financial Officer Dan Ammann and GM International Operations chief Tim Lee were appointed to Opel’s supervisory board several months earlier. The four U.S. executives bolster the appointment of Karl-Friedrich Stracke as head of GM Europe and CEO of Opel.
- GM names longtime executive Sergio Rocha to lead the auto maker’s GM Korea subsidiary after the sudden resignation of Michael Arcamone a month earlier. The appointment is a homecoming of sorts for Rocha, who led product development at the Korean unit when it operated under the GM Daewoo Auto and Technology name in the previous decade.
- Speaking with WardsAuto at the Washington auto show, GM North America President Mark Reuss reiterates the auto maker’s belief in the Chevy Volt EREV despite persistently sparse monthly sales results since its launch one year earlier.
With the U.S. presidential election just 10 months away, Republican candidate Mitt Romney begins labeling the Volt as a failure of President Obama’s bailout of GM and in 2009.
- Saab Cars North America President and Chief Operating Officer Timothy Colbeck tells media in Las Vegas for the annual National Automobile Dealers Assn. gathering that a slim chance exists for the former GM marque.
Hope for the bankrupt Swedish auto maker, whose topsy-turvy tumble takes nearly three years and culminates in GM blocking its sale to Chinese investors, dissolves later in the year with its final liquidation.
National Electric Vehicle Sweden, a group backed by a Hong Kong-based energy company, buys the Saab name in Sweden with intentions of building EVs. In the U.S., former Saab Cars USA dealers and creditors stand in line for scraps from the unit’s liquidation.
- GM in February appoints manufacturing-operations veteran Alicia Boler-Davis to the position of U.S. vice president-customer experience. Her task focuses on improving the GM ownership experience. Boler-Davis replaces Paul Copses, who the auto maker reassigns elsewhere in the organization.
One month later, Boler-Davis adds responsibility for global quality, as she takes over that position from Terry Wychowski, who elects to retire.
- GM appoints Randy Mott, a veteran chief information technology officer and onetime CIO at Hewlett-Packard, to lead a broad restructuring of the auto maker’s IT department. Mott replaces an exiting Terry Kline.
Mott’s yearlong plan includes bringing GM’s IT services back in-house after years of outsourcing the task to HP. The auto maker expects the decision to save millions of dollars annually.
- The all-new Chevrolet Colorado midsize pickup truck gets off to a hot start in Thailand, the first market to receive the global product. Developed by GM’s Asia/Pacific and Brazilian units, the pickup will come to the U.S. in 2013 and be built at the auto maker’s Wentzville, MO, assembly plant.
The U.S. assembly plant building the older version of the pickup in Shreveport, LA, goes black, having built 4.5 million vehicles over its 31 years. GM off-loaded the facility in 2011 to its bankruptcy trust, which is seeking a new tenant for the space but unlikely to be an auto maker.
- GM and French auto maker PSA Peugeot Citroen surprise the industry in February by inking a global alliance aimed at saving billions of dollars annually in product development and purchasing dollars. The alliance calls for at least five new products for the auto makers’ Opel, Vauxhall, Peugeot and Citroen brands by 2016 and the formation of a joint purchasing unit.
- GM in March announces plans to idle its assembly plant in Detroit making the Chevy Volt due to high inventories of the EREV. WardsAuto reports GM plans to extend the annual 2-week summer shutdown at the plant.
The auto maker eventually does just that, but says the extra downtime is needed for the model-year changeover. A month later, the plant makes more news when its goes idle, although this time GM attributes the downtime to preparation for building the Chevy Impala in 2013.
- The Opel supervisory board approves a plan for restructuring the auto maker. The scheme includes the closure of the Bochum, Germany, assembly plant and a pledge to add a slate of new products and engines to the brand.
- GM announces a new small car at Opel will be called the Adam, one of 23 new models and 13 new engines by 2016 meant to fuel the unit’s turnaround. The name plays on the German auto maker’s founder and namesake Adam Opel. The Adam later bows to positive reviews at the Paris auto show in September.
- Shanghai GM breaks ground in June on a new assembly plant in Wuhan, Hubei province, in central China. The $1 billion facility includes press, body assembly, paint and support services and boasts a capacity of 300,000 units annually.
- GM begins an expansion in Russia of its GM-AvtoVAZ joint venture, a plan expected to double production from 98,000 units to 230,000 by 2015. It is seen as the auto maker’s most significant development since the JV was formed in St. Petersburg in 2008.
- In arguably the biggest marketing story in years involving the auto industry, GM inks a 7-year deal worth a reported $600 million for Chevrolet to sponsor the shirts of England’s Manchester United football team.
The deal comes the day after GM ousted Joel Ewanick, the auto maker’s global chief financial officer and architect of the shirt contract. A statement from the auto maker says Ewanick “failed to meet the expectations that the company has for its employees.” News would emerge later that he did not properly vet the financial components of the deal. The gregarious Ewanick reportedly also clashed with GM’s button-down culture.
The Manchester United deal surprises many in the industry not only for its financial scale, but also because British football (soccer) has limited appeal in the U.S. However, GM wants to grow Chevrolet into a global brand and “Man U’ ranks as the most appealing team in the world’s most popular sport.
- GM shakes up its manufacturing leadership, with International Operations chief Tim Lee adding management of the auto maker’s global manufacturing footprint to his responsibilities. Lee takes over for Diana Tremblay, who will lead GM’s North American manufacturing operations and report to Lee.
Dan Akerson cites Lee’s international experience as the major reason for the change, noting 70% of GM’s products are built and sold outside of North America.
- GM axes its top executive in Europe, Karl-Friedrich Stracke, who also leads Opel. The auto maker appoints turnaround specialist Thomas Sedran as interim CEO of Opel and Vice Chairman Steve Girsky as interim CEO of GM Europe.
Stracke moved to the top of GM Europe a year after Nick Reilly announced his retirement from GM. Stracke had been serving as CEO of Opel for nearly 16 months before taking on the additional duties. The surprise move by GM leaves analysts curious about the outcome of the company’s turnaround plan for the region.
- GM names 25-year industry veteran and German native Michael Lohscheller as chief financial officer and vice president-finance at Opel/Vauxhall. Lohscheller joins GM from
Group of America, where he served as CFO. Lohscheller replaces Mark N. James, whose future at GM’s European unit is undetermined.
- GM names Michael Ableson as Opel/Vauxhall board member in charge of engineering and GM Europe vice president-engineering. He previously served as the auto maker’s global vehicle line executive for compact cars and replaces Rita Forst, who later resigns.
- GM restructures its product-development operations, removing a layer of management and placing a single executive in charge of product programs for each of the auto maker’s market segments.
As part of the shakeup, which eliminates 20 executive positions globally, Doug Parks is named vice president-product programs. Parks will manage the product-program chiefs and report to Mary Barra, GM’s head of product development.
- Dave Lyon, a U.S.-based designer newly appointed to lead design at Opel/Vauxhall, abruptly leaves at the end of July. Formerly in charge of the Buick brand in the U.S., Lyon quits GM on the eve of his departure for Opel headquarters in Russelsheim.
Mark Adams, who preceded Lyon in the position and was on his way to the U.S. for a design assignment, stays on as the acting chief stylist in Europe until a replacement is found. The changes in design management come alongside a restructuring of GM’s global studios, placing more emphasis on individual brands.
- GM in August seeks to settle worries over its Opel restructuring, saying the plan remains on track despite the departure of key executives, declining market share and continued gloominess in Europe.
Reporting a better-than-expected $1.5 billion profit in the year’s second quarter, Dan Akerson says the auto maker will not hesitate to change leadership and its plan for turning around Opel will move faster than GM’s history might suggest.
- GM China and local joint-venture partner SAIC in September open what they call the largest industrial complex in China west of Shanghai. The 2.2-sq.-mile (5.7-sq.-km) facility cost $254 million and will support design and development of vehicles by the Pan Asia Automotive Technical Center owned by GM China and SAIC.
- GM China President Kevin Wale, a fixture for the auto maker in Asia/Pacific for many years, announces his retirement. Bob Socia, vice president-purchasing and supply chain, takes over for Wale. A permanent replacement for Socia isn’t immediately named.
- GM announces a $450 million investment in Argentina. The outlay will accommodate production of a new global Chevrolet vehicle for sale locally and for export.
- Robert Ferguson, GM’s voice in Washington as vice president-global policy, assumes the newly created position of global marketing chief for Cadillac. He is tasked with marketing, brand management and advertising for the brand, which GM wants to grow into a global luxury player.
Ferguson carries the same telecommunications background as Dan Akerson and former Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre. He also served in recent years as a senior strategist for a major communications firm.
- GM earns $1.5 billion in the third quarter, weaker than year-ago but beating most Wall Street estimates. Europe continues to drag on the auto maker, losing $478 million in the period.
However, Vice Chairman Steve Girsky says in the financial report that initial evidence of GM’s turnaround in Europe has emerged in recent weeks. He cites critically acclaimed new products, lower fixed costs and, for the first time in years, an operating profit from the unit.
- GM announces in November it has secured an $11 billion credit facility. The line of credit gives the company backup liquidity, but also serves as a vote of confidence from the global financial community in the auto maker’s turnaround.