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Akerson To Be GM's 4th CEO In 18 Months

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Akerson To Be GM's 4th CEO In 18 Months

Business

Akerson To Be GM's 4th CEO In 18 Months

Akerson To Be GM's 4th CEO In 18 Months

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Edward Whitacre is stepping down as chief executive of General Motors. He will be succeeded by Daniel Akerson, a GM board member. Micheline Maynard, senior editor of Changing Gears, talks to Renee Montagne about the changes at the top.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

The nation's largest carmaker, General Motors, has posted its biggest quarterly profit in six years. So it may seem a bit odd that GM's chairman and chief executive, Edward Whitacre, announced yesterday, he's stepping down.

We reached Micheline Maynard, senior editor of Changing Gears, to find out what this change in leadership is likely to mean for GM.

Ms. MICHELINE MAYNARD (Senior Editor, ChangingGear.com): The significant is twofold. First of all, he feels General Motors is in good enough financial shape that he can leave. And second, the board of General Motors is stocked with potential successors for him.

It is kind of interesting that they chose Dan Akerson, who is one of their board members, rather than one of the new executives that Mr. Whitacre brought in to run General Motors.

MONTAGNE: Though, with that naming of Dan Akerson, he - Whitacre - said that this was the right guy for the job. I mean, was he expecting him to be named, do you think?

Ms. MAYNARD: No, he's not someone who anyone Detroit really has ever heard of. He's an experienced telecommunications executive. And right before he joined the General Motors board, he was based in Washington for Carlyle, which is the big global investment firm. He's someone who's well-known in the financial community, in the telecom community, but definitely not in the car business.

MONTAGNE: Let's talk about the shape GM is in. It's now had a couple of profitable quarters, which sound good.

Ms. MAYNARD: Yes, they do. General Motors earned about $1.3 billion in the second quarter. And, you know, that sounds great - General Motors was literally on its knees a year ago, and had to go through bankruptcy. But Ford Motor Company is doing better. Ford, which is a smaller company than GM and which didn't take any federal bailout money, earned a little bit over $2 billion in this last quarter.

So side by side, Ford is still outearning General Motors.

MONTAGNE: As early as today, GM will be filing paperwork to sell shares again to the public. Why is it going public again now, rather than, say, wait a couple more quarters - hope that they're also profitable and they show good earnings?

Ms. MAYNARD: That is the $64,000 question. Or I suppose, in the case of the automakers, the $64 billion question - which is what they got in bailout money from the government.

I think it's too early. If you just asked me, as somebody who's followed the industry for a long time, I would say give it a couple more quarters because everyone is worried about the economy right now. And certainly for car sales, the three things that people worry about most are: jobs, the consumer confidence - what people feel about buying things - and housing. And all of those things are an iffy situation.

But there's a specific thing to think about in this case, which is that the General Motors bankruptcy wasn't just a financial bankruptcy, but a political bankruptcy. The Obama administration wants General Motors to get back on its feet as quickly as possible so that it can say, look, we spent our money wisely. We put them through bankruptcy, we saved a million jobs, and now General Motors is selling stock again to the public.

So it's important, not only for General Motors, but for the Obama administration - that GM sell stock again.

MONTAGNE: With this new change at the top, and this will be the fourth CEO in less than a year and half, might that affect the priorities when it comes one particular project - the Volt?

Ms. MAYNARD: The Volt was actually conceived several years ago when Rick Wagner was CEO of General Motors. Since Mr. Wagner was fired, there've been three other GM CEOs and they've all stuck by the Volt.

The Volt is a very important car for General Motors. It's going to be proof that they can develop a plug-in hybrid vehicle. They've put an enormous amount of time and marketing money into getting the Volt a visibility in the United States car market. So I don't anything happens with the Volt.

You know, I think a lot of us were perceiving Ed Whitacre behind the wheel of a Volt in the commercials and at a lot of press events, but I guess it falls to Mr. Akerson to now get behind the wheel at GM, and behind the wheel of the Volt.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much for talking with us.

Ms. MAYNARD: Okay, my pleasure.

MONTAGNE: Micheline Maynard is the senior editor of Changing Gears. She spoke to us from the studios of Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor.

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