Special Coverage

NADA Convention & Exposition

LAS VEGAS – General Motors Corp.’s product lineup is stronger than it has been in years, and the auto maker has made great strides with quality control, but it’s not enough to offer “me too” vehicles, says Troy Clarke, GM’s president of North American operations.

That means GM must do more than say its products are as good as their competitors, he tells a J.D. Power and Associates roundtable held here as part of the National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention. “We know we need to overachieve to regain customers who left us.”

The way to get them back is with great product, a superb dealer network and going one step further with customers, he says. “The days of compromising and of customers saying, ‘What were they thinking when they did that?’ are behind us.”

Despite significant downsizing in the face of fewer sales and smaller market share, GM has managed to keep employee morale high, Clarke says. “There is a sense of pride at GM these days, a belief in product.”

The theme of his conference speech was “Facing challenges in remaining as the No.1 auto maker.” But he says that in North America – the world’s biggest and most competitive market – every auto company faces challenges of some sort.

That said, “An uneven playing field in the U.S. is definitely a challenge for GM, and not one we face anywhere else in the world.”

Clarke contends foreign competitors hold an unfair advantage due to unilateral trade restrictions and international exchange rate currency manipulation.

“We’re not whining about it, but we’re talking to anyone who will listen,” he says.

On the bright side for GM, the auto maker has stabilized retail sales, increased transaction prices and boosted residual values by cutting back on customer incentives.

Clarke says GM “paid a price” for leading creative incentive programs, from hefty rebates to employee discount prices for consumers. Such discount schemes, as well as rental fleet sales, “became a bigger part of what we were selling,” he says, and consequently residual values dropped.

“We have to make this a profitable company,” he says. “We don’t expect stockholders to be tolerant forever.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com