2011 Year in Review: General Motors

Highlights of the year’s major events affecting General Motors.

James M. Amend, Senior Editor

November 28, 2011

8 Min Read
2011 Year in Review: General Motors


Highlights of the year’s major events affecting General Motors:

• General Motors’ sales in the U.S. get off to a quick start on aggressive marketing to current owners, as well as some steep discounting. But the auto maker pledges the strategy does not mark a return to days of incentivized deals to clear out overbuilt inventories.

• The auto maker says it wants to boost production of the all-new Chevy Volt extended-range electric vehicle, but reveals its nascent supply chain cannot handle the uptick. Financial constraints also limit builds, because GM makes the one-of-a-kind car at a loss.

• GM’s European Adam Opel unit announces plans to build a convertible based on the Delta global compact-car architecture, targeting a 2013 launch from its Gliwice, Poland, assembly plant. Opel’s turnaround plan includes a revamping and expansion of its product line.

• GM installs longtime engineer and current human-resources chief Mary Barra to head the auto maker’s global product-development operations, a position vacated with Tom Stephens’ appointment to global chief technology officer. She becomes the first woman to hold the car-czar spot.

• The company reports its first annual profit since 2004, posting 2010 income of $4.7 billion. The result includes a $510 million profit in the fourth quarter. “Good start, (but) a lot more work to do,” GM Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson says.

• Saab, a former GM subsidiary, celebrates the 1-year anniversary of its independence. But the party is short-lived, with a factory shutdown a few weeks later as the auto maker finds itself back in reorganization and threatened with insolvency.

Ironically, GM objects to life-saving funding from a pair of Chinese investors hoping to buy Saab outright. GM says it must protect its position in China, where the investors want to expand Saab.

CEO Dan Akerson details $2 billion U.S. investment plan at Toledo transmission plant.

• GM Korea becomes the official brand of the auto maker in the region. The switch includes dropping the Daewoo name on all vehicles and switching to Chevrolet. The change comes alongside three new vehicles and another five more before year’s end.

• Jamie Hresko, a 28-year veteran of GM’s manufacturing ranks and for nine months a vice president and head of powertrain operations, abruptly leaves the company. His departure signals continued churn in the auto maker’s executive ranks since the 2009 bankruptcy.

• Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell, on the job just short of 15 months, resigns and is placed by Dan Ammann, another Kiwi. “I achieved a lot of what I came here for,” says Liddell, a point man on the historic return of GM shares to public trading four months earlier.

• GM takes steps to mitigate parts shortages related to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The crisis centers mostly on obtaining enough computer chips, which manage all of the auto maker’s vehicle software. A war room at GM’s technical center in Warren, MI, guides executives through the months-long work.

• The auto maker appoints vehicle-engineering veteran and German native Karl Stracke as CEO of Opel/Vauxhall, the company’s two big brands in Europe. The move lightens the workload of GM Europe chief Nick Reilly.

Reilly, the last of GM’s old guard of executives, later in the year announces his retirement after 37 years in various global capacities at the company and is replaced by Stracke.

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State of Industry: North America

• GM unveils a new Chevy Colorado small pickup truck in Thailand. The truck initially will be built in Thailand and later at Wentzville, MO.

The U.S. assembly location comes after the auto maker brokers a new 4-year contract with the United Auto Workers union. Adding the Colorado in Wentzville all but ensures the closure of the current Colorado plant in Shreveport, LA, in 2012.

• GM names Grace D. Lieblein president and managing director of the auto maker’s Brazilian operations. She takes a post left vacant by the departure of Denise Johnson in February following a decline in market share over the past year. Ernesto Hernandez replaces Lieblein as head of GM Mexico.

Special Coverage

2011 Year In Review

• Robert Stempel, the second engineer ever to be named CEO of GM and who was ousted in 1992 after two years in a boardroom struggle, dies on May 7 at the age 77.

His stint as chief officer overshadows his technical achievements at the auto maker. They included development of GM’s first front-wheel-drive car, the ’66 Toronado; work on the emissions-taming catalytic converter; and green-lighting the EV1 electric car, predecessor to the Chevy Volt.

• GM unveils the next-generation Chevy Malibu at the New York auto show, a bread-and-butter midsize sedan aimed at further rebuilding the auto maker’s passenger-car portfolio.

• The auto maker announces plans to invest $2 billion at 17 U.S. manufacturing sites, with the expectation of creating and retaining more than 4,000 jobs as part of its bounce-back from bankruptcy.

Between the two events, GM already had invested $3.4 billion in the U.S., creating or maintaining some 9,000 jobs. Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson reveals the plan in Toledo, OH, where the auto maker will build its first 8-speed transmission.

• GM earns $3.2 billion in the first quarter, its fifth straight quarterly profit since emerging from bankruptcy in 2009. It also marks the best quarterly result in more than a decade.

• The auto maker says a seventh-generation Chevrolet Corvette, easily GM’s most iconic car, will not come before 2013. GM also begins the sell-down of Cadillac DTS and STS fullsize cars as part of their phase-out ahead of the new XTS in 2012. The XTS essentially combines the two cars.

• GM says it will suspend production of the Chevy Volt extended-range electric car in Hamtramck, MI, to change over for the new model year. The changeover takes four weeks and later is cited as one reason behind the car’s slow sales. But the work also yields production improvements, and the auto maker decides not to add a second shift as previously planned.

• New GM Europe chief Karl Stracke predicts the struggling unit will be “substantially profitable” in 2012 and confirms its restructuring after years of losses is ahead of schedule.

But as the sovereign debt crisis deepens later in the year and weighs more heavily on consumers in the region, GM will reveal its European operations will not reach break-even this year. The news clouds expectation for 2012.

• The auto maker’s OnStar telematics unit launches OnStar FMV, or For My Vehicle, an aftermarket rearview mirror promising all the safety and connectivity of OnStar to non-GM models for the first time in a decade. The FMV unit is one element in OnStar’s defense of its market share.

• GM tells shareholders at its annual meeting, the second since restructuring and the first in Detroit in decades, that it plans to take a 2-brand approach globally. Chevrolet and Cadillac brands will bookend the market, with Buick, GMC and other regional brands acting as localized and complementary brands.

• The Obama Admin. raises corporate average fuel economy to 54.5 mpg (4.3 L/100 km) by 2025, a target GM North America President Mark Reuss calls “tough,” but one he expects the auto maker can reach.

• GM says it will sell a diesel version of the Chevy Cruze compact car in the U.S. in 2013.

• The auto maker announces it will invest E190 million ($271 million) in Opel’s Eisenach, Germany, assembly plant to accommodate a new small car positioned below the Corsa that is expected to aid in the unit’s turnaround. Serial production will launch in 2013.

• GM says it will slash the number of its vehicle and engine architectures over the next decade from 24 in 2010 to 14 in 2018, while drastically cutting the amount of effort it takes to produce a new vehicle over the near term as it looks to improve its bottom line and boost its global-market standing.

• GM China’s SAIC-GM-Wuling joint venture launches sales of its Baojun 630 midsize sedan in Chengdu province, a new brand for the auto makers in the region. The low-cost entry is offered in three trim levels, with sticker prices ranging from RMB 62,800- RMB 73,800 ($9,764-$11,474).

• The auto maker reports second-quarter earnings of $2.5 billion ($1.54 per share), nearly doubling year-ago’s $1.3 billion ($0.85 per share). Revenue jumps a healthy $6.2 billion to $39.4 billion.

• GM and SAIC, the auto maker’s joint-venture partner in China, reach an agreement to develop electric vehicles for the market. The architecture could be elsewhere, too, they say.

• GM and the United Auto Workers union agree to a new 4-year labor contract, which includes some $2.5 billion of investment in U.S. plants for work originally planned for Mexico.

• The auto maker opens its first diesel-engine plant in Southeast Asia. The $200 million, 584,211-sq.-ft. (54,273-sq.-m) facility in Rayong province, Thailand, will build Duramax 4-cyl. engines.

• GM announces plans to sell an all-electric version of its Chevy Spark minicar in the U.S. in 2013.

• GM Europe announces plans to begin selling vehicles in South America under the Opel badge. The Middle East and Asia/Pacific, including heavier exports to China, could follow.

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