If some of you would like to see GM take a more aggressive stance with its Voltec technology, despite its info-guarding public relations department, you might actually find someone above them who’d agree on points with you.

That would be GM’s Chairman and CEO, Dan Akerson.

In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Akerson was described as one unafraid to candidly criticize both GM’s competitors as well as the culture within his own company.


At times past Akerson has said the Prius is a “geek-mobile,” and Ford should “sprinkle holy water” on its ailing Lincoln brand.

The AP reports Akerson is also really mad that at GM, “there is resistance to change.”

The whole edited interview covered issues beyond the Volt, such as relations with China, the company’s stock price – which as of the close of trading on Tuesday was at $19.69 per share, compared to its $33 IPO – and more.

But Akerson had a fair bit to say about the Volt. Interestingly, he made a semantic distinction as to what constitutes “second generation,” in saying by next summer the 2012 model year will constitute Gen 2.

Of course he is not saying substantial updates will have been incorporated by then. As far as we know, a complete re-engineering won’t be here before 2015, but this is Akerson’s term adopted as an outsider to the industry and recruited in 2009 by the federal government.

The former head of XO communications “thought his management, financial and engineering skills” could help the company considered important to the U.S. economy, AP says.

Akerson grew up in Minnesota and was a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, and although not a car guy, he quickly became conversant in everything automotive from transmissions to batteries to supply chains to union issues and so on.

When asked how long he plans to stay at GM, Akerson said, “I bought a condo in Detroit. I like the company. I like the city. I like the industry and I guess as long as I'm having fun and the board wants me, the management is willing to follow, I'll stay.”

With regards to the Volt, this is what he said to the AP:

Q: Would you recall all 6,000 Volts to strengthen the battery?

A: If we find that is the solution, we will retrofit every one of them. By the way, if someone wants to sell it back to us now, we'll take that too. We're quite confident that we'll find a solution.

Q: Do you think the news about the Chevy Volt will harm sales of electric vehicles?

Photo credit: Richard Drew/Associated Press.

A: This car is safe. There is nothing happening immediately after the crash. I think in the interest of General Motors, the industry, the electrification of the car, it's better to get it right now, when you have 6,000 — instead of 60,000 or 600,000 — cars on the road. We're not the only car company that has liquid-cooled batteries out there. There are many. So we think this is the right thing to do for our customers, first and foremost, and it was the right thing to do for General Motors and the industry.

Q: Are you moving past the early technology adopters on the Volt at this point, or has any data surprised you on who is actually buying this vehicle?

A: The average purchaser of a Volt is earning $170,000 a year. About a third of the customers haven't been in a Chevy store in more than five years and half have never been in there. They aren't just early adopters.

Some of them — I think roughly half — are either Prius or BMW owners. So one, you could say Prius owners were probably early adopters in the olden days, but that's kind of passed through. But BMW people want styling, good design, and an innovative powertrain, or power source, and I think Volt is a game changer.

And quite frankly that's one reason we want to kind of clear the decks here. As you may remember, in the early days of Lexus, there were real issues surrounding quality. And they called back 8,000, reworked them, and put them back out. People don't remember that because Lexus is a great car, it's a great brand. I think it demonstrated that Toyota was sensitive to their customers' needs, perceptions, and safety, and it was an analog to what we wanted to follow here.

Q: When are we going to see the electric car as the typical family car?

A: We want to ramp Volt production to roughly 60,000 in 2012. I think Prius in its second year did a lot less than that, half. By this summer we will (be in) what I call the second generation, where we will achieve certain scale and we should see an appreciable drop in the cost of the production of the Volt. So, 2011 was kind of a year to get things aligned and make sure that the car was what we hoped it would be. We certainly see that in our showrooms and our sales and Consumer Reports' acceptance.

We'll clear up this near-term issue hopefully soon so you'll see 60,000. It's an unanswerable question given what I know today, but people ask me and I say, "Well, I would hope by 2020, 10 percent of the cars sold would be of alternate propulsion." We're also working on hydrogen fuel-cell cars which, in the end, are electric as well.

Another Volt award

In other news, the Volt is expected to be announced today as the CNET "2011 Tech Car of the Year." In an online vote , it garnered 64 percent of the votes compared to three other more expensive imported vehicles. The Audi A7, which Automobile magazine recently named "Automobile of the Year," was next closest with 24 percent of the votes.


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