The story General Motors wants to tell today is about the Chevy Volt — the extended-range electric vehicle that symbolizes the company’s efforts to emphasize innovation, advanced technology, fuel efficiency and a new culture for the Detroit automaker in a post-bailout world.
But while GM has released new details this morning about its initial rollout plan for the Volt — it will start in California with several utility partners in a demo program supported by a $30 million stimulus grant — the story that GM won’t be able to avoid is about a company out of sorts following the sudden exit of CEO Fritz Henderson (pictured with the Volt).
The rollout will begin in California (other early adopter markets will be announced later), where utilities will test more than 100 Volts in their fleets over the course of two years and install some 500 charging stations, according to GM’s press release today. GM will load the vehicles with its OnStar telematics system and “collect vehicle performance data and driver feedback that will be reported to the DOE and used to improve customers’ experiences with the new technology.”
The timing of Henderson’s resignation, announced less than 24 hours ahead of the keynote he had been scheduled to deliver today at the Los Angeles Auto Show, hardly seems accidental. But it will certainly distract from the Volt, which GM has been heavily promoting in the L.A. area leading up to this week’s auto show.
Henderson’s ouster “shouldn’t come as a surprise given what we know about GM Chairman Ed Whitacre Jr., who will serve as CEO while he and the board search for a permanent successor,” as Michael Corkery writes over at the Wall Street Journal’s Deal Journal blog. Whitacre, Corkery notes, is “a hard-charging Texan with a penchant for killing rattlesnakes for sport” and “is known for taking over companies and imposing his will on its employees, starting at the top.”
But if Henderson was pushed out because he represents the “old GM” and wasn’t driving fast enough change at the company, as some observers are speculating this morning, the company must have some fresh legs ready to jump in the game, right? Not quite.
Taking Henderson’s place at the L.A. Auto Show podium this morning is none other than Bob Lutz, the Chevy Volt frontman who for years denied climate change, made his name with muscle cars and trucks, and eventually came to champion Detroit’s most serious effort at a plug-in vehicle since GM’s EV-1. Lutz earlier this year announced he would retire, but nixed those plans this summer to stick around long enough at least to see the Volt — which is often credited as his brainchild — hit the market.
Photo courtesy of General Motors