MONTICELLO, NY – Confirmingslashed its research and development investments between 2007 and 2009 while fighting to stave off financial disaster, Chief Financial Officer Daniel Ammann says the auto maker now is budgeting twice as much for R&D than when it hit bottom.
“We're investing in our future,” Ammann tells WardsAuto at a media event here. The CFO, who also is a certified industry-pool test driver at the Nurburgring racetrack in Germany, drives here from New York City in a ’61 Cadillac Convertible Series 62 to attend the annual Test Day of the International Motor Press Assn. at the Monticello Motor Club.
As he later pilots an all-new ATS around the challenging 4.1-mile (6.6-km) road course, Ammann notes GM's development investments are paying off, particularly at Cadillac, which recently released the ATS and XTS models.
The ATS was benchmarked against the segment-leading3-Series and bests the German competitor in every category, in Ammann’s view. He expects Cadillac to be more competitive with the German premium auto makers during this decade.
The New Zealand-born GM senior vice president has been CFO since April 2011, bringing some stability to the office that has changed hands frequently since John Devine retired from the post in 2005.
Ammann says GM still derives most of its revenue and profit from North America. But it also is the No.1 brand in China, thus leading the world’s two biggest vehicle markets.
“I don't foresee China passing North America (as the source of GM profits) in this decade,” he says, adding the auto maker is improving its penetration in Russia and other markets, as well.
“We're not fixated on being No.1 (globally) in any given year,” Ammann says, explaining GM's goal is to be profitable above all else. “We want to have a fortress balance sheet with the strength to invest in the future (even in a down market.)”
Indeed, GM has nearly $40 billion in available liquidity and can strengthen its product portfolio across its brands. “We have a very big opportunity ahead of us,” he says.
Ammann predicts Cadillac will get a broader portfolio in the future. “We have more (models) to come for Cadillac than the XTS and ATS.”
He's also confident GM can afford the investments needed to meet the government-mandated 2025 fuel-economy standard of 54.5 mpg (4.3 L/100 km). “There's a whole host of technologies we're working on to achieve that target. Electrification is not the only element in that (quest).
However, hydrogen fuel-cell development has been pushed back as a possible solution to the problem.
GM is making good progress in its effort to develop global models, Ammann says. The Chevrolet Cruze has achieved 1.7 million sales globally since its introduction overseas, and he predicts the subcompact Spark, which has gotten off to a fast start, will be another successful move in that direction.
“We have a significant opportunity to runas one very big integrated company,” he says. “The Cruze (sold in 60 countries,) is an example of the good progress we've made, but we have a lot more work to do.”
Meanwhile, GM is not fixated on trying to boost its stock price above the initial product offering. “The stock price will look to itself,” Ammann says. “Our goal is to run the business as best we can, then the stock price will look out for itself over time.”
GM's stock has outperformed's since the IPO, he says, while also admitting GM stock has not had the best performance in the global automotive industry.
Ammann declines to comment on whether the U.S. government should hold on to its (non- controlling) stock interest in GM, which it acquired as part of the auto maker’s bankruptcy bailout and reorganization.
“The decision to sell is their decision,” he says.