Best of Rick Wagoner: Farewell to the Volt/Hummer Chief


Rick Wagoner — the 31-year General Motors (s GM) veteran who worked his way up to CEO in 2000, allowed the company to drop its early lead in hybrid technology, pulled the plug on the EV-1 electric car development program, steered the company during an era of SUVs and 16 MPG Hummers and, when gas prices climbed late in his tenure, eventually championed the extended-range electric Chevy Volt concept along with frontman Bob Lutz — has resigned at the request of President Barack Obama’s auto task force. Under Wagoner’s leadership, GM has lost $82 billion over the last four years.

As Chief Operating Officer Frederick Henderson takes the reins at GM, Wagoner will reportedly hit the road with a $20 million retirement package. Here’s a look at what lies in his rear-view mirror:

On Innovation: At last year’s Consumer Electronics Show, Wagoner delivered the first keynote from a car maker at CES in 41 years. He started with the basics:

The auto industry can no longer rely almost exclusively on oil to supply the world’s future automotive energy requirements.

Wagoner proceeded to describe a mixed bag of solutions being pursued at GM, including hydrogen, ethanol and electric vehicles. “No one solution is going to be best for every part of the world,” he said. The company’s goal? Simple:

[U]se advanced technology to offer a broad range of cleaner and more efficient vehicles, powered by different sources of energy.

On Climate Change: Wagoner had a more palatable way of talking about climate change than Lutz. But tucked into his efforts to smooth over Lutz’s statement last year that global warming is a “total crock” was an expression of doubt about the overwhelming consensus among scientists that humans are contributing to climate change. Quoted in the Detroit News, via CNET:

The data is pretty clear that the temperature on the earth is rising. There’s all sort of debates as to why but we’ve clearly come down on the side it makes sense for us to put our business in a position where we can participate proactively in reducing the amount of (carbon dioxide) emissions.

On Green Car Startups: As if General Motors didn’t have enough to worry about — with its $3.3 billion first-quarter loss and a two-month strike at a parts maker that had cost it $800 million by last May — when Wagoner spoke at a meeting of the Commonwealth Club in downtown San Francisco. The automaker also had a host of electric-vehicle startups revving to get electric vehicles on the market before the Chevy Volt. Wagoner claimed he wasn’t worried. This is a high-volume, tough game to compete in and GM has a natural advantage by virtue of its experience and its “depth of technology,” he said at the Commonwealth Club meeting, adding:

We plan to win. We welcome the competition, but I expect in ten years were going to be leading the parade.

On the EV-1: Wagoner may not have needed the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car?” to realize killing GM’s electric car development program was a mistake. But just ahead of the film’s release in 2006, Wagoner told Motor Trend magazine that the move was the decision he most regretted:

Axing the EV1 electric-car program and not putting the right resources into hybrids. It didn’t affect profitability, but it did affect image.

On Ethanol and Flex Fuel Vehicles: Also at CES 2008, Wagoner called for more investment in cellulosic ethanol and an increase in E-85 pumps at gas stations, noting GM’s plans to add flex-fuel offerings to 50 percent of its cars by 2012. He said:

It’s increasingly clear that ethanol offers tremendous potential in this regard, over a surprisingly short timeframe.

On Government Aid: In a panel discussion on the economy held in Pittsburgh during the last presidential campaign, Obama asked Wagoner what he could do as president to best help Detroit “pivot” as quickly as possible and start making greener cars. Wagoner listed three things: research assistance for new technologies, incentives and rebates for consumers, and help converting manufacturing plants. Translation: Show me the money.

On YouTube: As the global economy headed into a tailspin last fall, GM posted a series of videos with its execs on YouTube called “The Case for GM.” The company said it was reaching out for constructive criticism and two-way communication. Huh. Then why (as our friends over at NewTeeVee so astutely pointed out) did GM disable comments on its videos? From NewTeeVee:

In his video Wagoner talks about what GM is doing in the midst of high oil prices, financial market crisis, and a weak economy. Wagoner’s remarks are the standard stuff a CEO would say — we’re looking to the future, blah blah blah. But at the end Wagoner invites people to leave comments (he’s “anxious” for them) and then says he’ll read them all. Easy to do when no one can post one.

On GM’s Future: In an email message posted this morning on GM’s web site, Wagoner had characteristically optimistic parting words for his former employees:

GM is a great company with a storied history. Ignore the doubters because I know it is also a company with a great future.


grupa jurgena

Welcome to GM make up for losses, help to join the Leonardo da Vinci project was 1973 years ended 2009 in central Germany, belongs to a private group called the group Jurgen, Leonardo says farewell gasoline electric cars without the incredible range of plug without the battery, then the flash, which illumine the world automotive industry. All are invited to discuss the project Leonardo


I would not underestimate the Obama team’s skills, not as business folks, but as politicians, which is what they are.

The TARP deal was largely constructed outside the Obama Administration’s control, but it looks like it has served the purpose of letting Obama’s team learn some great lessons. They have learned that populist sentiment is that execs are getting off scott free (or even partying with the bailout money). And the taxpayers are keen for a little punishment. This is a quick and easy way to build Populist support by showing that they are demanding the heads of the folks who ’caused’ this. it might not be fair, but when the government is your banker, you better expect that politics come with the cash.


The North American car industry… So, you’re saying that the only way that US auto industry can sustain itself is to continuously pedal over sized SUV’s and 4X4’s? If that’s the case, the “big 3” are already dead and in the ground… All that’s left to do is shovel the dirt on the casket and stick some PVC flowers on the mound. Do we really expect to be able to infinitely expand industrial manufacturing in a fixed resource, fixed area planet? The first thing that we should do is define “sustainability” and then seriously look at pursuing that avenue, otherwise the future will look like alot of revamped 50’s automobile marketing rhetoric. Better go have a gander at “The Story of Stuff” with Annie Leonard and then spout us some more rhetoric about increasing output to increase profitability. People are getting tired of working 60+ hours a week just to buy junk and watch it fall apart before the payments are even done…

kerry bradshaw

I wanted Rick to step down after he demonstrated an inability and unwillingness to defend GM against brainless trash like Who Killed the Eelectric car?
Then he ruled out bankruptcy in favor of continuing GM’s deadly connection with the price-fixing UAW.
Rick just wanted to be liked. The job called for leadership and Rick certainly had no ability in that regard. However, the jerks in Obama’s auto committee showedin its recomendations that it understands nothing about the auto industry. Neither does Obama, who makes claims that going green and “high tech” will save the American auto industry. GM was as high tech as many, but with the UAW and its health care for retirees fund, there simply wasn’t any money left,even during good years, to pay for development of vehicles. And anyone like the liar Obama who thinks that Detroit can prosper building small cars needs to have a foot shoved up his skinny ass. Why does he think GM was building those popular expensive triucks and SUVs? That what the folks were buying and the only vehicles that turned a profit. Obama seems to have the bizarre idea that one prospers by getting smaller and selling fewer products with lower profit margins.
That tells you everythiong you need to know about Obama’s abilities as a businessman. He’s pure BS.
Nothing more, nothing less. How about a Presidential impeachment to start the ball rolling. Uh, oh, Biden’s waiting in the wings. Decisions, decisions…

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