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GM CEO Disses Lincoln as “Over”; Downplays Hydrogen and Ethanol

Chief Executive Akerson earning reputation as hip-shooter.

by on Jun.06, 2011

GM CEO Dan Akerson takes aim at Lincoln, declaring the Cadillac rival "over."

General Motors CEO Dan Akerson seems to be working hard to earn a reputation for shooting from the hip.  In recent months, he has taken pot shots at any number of competitors, and is now taking aim at Ford Motor Co., suggesting that its struggling Lincoln brand is “over.”

The former Navy officer also downplayed various alternative powertrain solutions, such as hydrogen and ethanol, both championed by his predecessor, former GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner.  But in an interview with The Detroit News, Akerson showed he could also criticize his own company, he suggested that it won’t be long before GM’s own Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid will be considered “old, old technology and old news.”

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That’s not to say GM will go back to business as usual when it comes to powertrains.  If anything, Akerson has been a major proponent of alternative propulsion since taking on his dual duties as chairman and CEO last year.

But, he told the News, “In the next 10 years, this company has to break the code on advanced propulsion and that’s going to be a multifaceted solution.”

Don’t expect those solutions to include E85, an alternative championed by former Chairman Wagoner – in part because federal fuel economy laws allowed GM to take significant credits for any vehicle equipped to run on E85, even if an owner never actually filled the tank with the alcohol-based fuel.

Ethanol, said Akerson, is “going to die slowly.”  He wasn’t much more upbeat about hydrogen, which remains too costly for mass production and for which there is simply no production or distribution infrastructure.

For anyone who questions GM’s commitment to shifting from its truck-based past to a fleet of smaller, more fuel-efficient models, Akerson said, “”we’re not going to do these big, heavy trucks that are making 15 miles, 12 miles to a gallon.”

The executive has proven surprisingly outspoken at a company that has traditionally tried to avoid getting into verbal battles with the competition – with the exception of former Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, a man who, it was often said, had a propensity to shoot from the lip.”

Akerson riled Nissan, maker of the Leaf battery car – and a prime competitor of the Chevy Volt – by suggesting it was a car for “nerds,” and wasn’t likely to find much of a market.

This time, the executive reserved his scorn for Ford’s high-line Lincoln brand, which has admittedly been struggling to find an identity that can finally help rebuild its once-solid position in the luxury market. Despite promises by Ford officials that they are developing a new plant to save the brand, Akerson clearly isn’t worried.

“They are trying like hell to resurrect Lincoln. Well, I might as well tell you, you might as well sprinkle holy water. It’s over,” he said about Cadillac’s historical competitor.

As for Caddy, Akerson made it clear the brand is crucial for GM’s long-term viability.  Nonetheless, he suggest it will take time to rebuild the once-leading brand.  Asked about the new ATS small luxury model and planned XTS premium sedan, Akerson suggested, “They’re not going to blow the doors off,” he said, “but they will be very competitive.”


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