GM's Roger Smith Dies Roger Smith, who led General Motors in the 1980s, died Thursday at age 82, according to GM. He was so much more than the man depicted in Michael Moore's documentary Roger and Me, his supporters say.
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GM's Roger Smith Dies

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GM's Roger Smith Dies

GM's Roger Smith Dies

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY.

A major figure from the automotive industry is dead. Roger Smith ran General Motors throughout the 1980s, but he unwittingly became a figure in the movies too. He was the elusive man that Michael Moore tried to track down in his breakthrough documentary "Roger & Me." Here's a clip from that movie.

(Soundbite of movie, "Roger & Me")

Unidentified Woman #1: If you don't have an appointment, you're not going up to 14.

Mr. MICHAEL MOORE (Filmmaker): Well, can we go up and try to make an appointment?

Unidentified Woman #1: No.

Unidentified Man: And the reason to talk to Roger Smith would be?

Mr. MOORE: Michael Moore.

Unidentified Man: No, no. What's your reason for seeing Roger Smith?

Mr. MOORE: Uh, we're doing...

Unidentified Woman #2: Excuse me, I need to see you.

Mr. MOORE: We're doing - we're making a film.

CHADWICK: That's from the film "Roger & Me," featuring a reluctant Roger Smith.

Dave Cole joins us now. He's chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He's followed the career of Roger Smith for decades. Dave, thank you for joining with us. And tell me...

Mr. DAVE COLE (Center for Automotive Research): Oh, it's my pleasure, Alex.

CHADWICK: Tell me first about Roger Smith's tenure at GM. What did he accomplish there?

Mr. COLE: Well, a great many things. It's kind of unfortunate that Michael Moore's movie is probably going to be what sort of frames his legacy because it was much broader than what the issue was there. He, for example, led the acquisition of two very important companies - EDF and Hughes, that financially were very successful. But probably more important, he really brought a level of technology into GM that's been extremely important to this day and beyond. Another was the creation of Saturn, which was a different kind of car, different kind of company. It really led, in many respects, to the dramatic increase in harmony between labor and management. He was kind of criticized for his labor views, but Saturn was really an attempt to create a model inside of General Motors for a new order of labor management relations. And Roger really made that happen.

CHADWICK: He started a deal with Toyota, so GM would build cars with Toyota. He built the first front-wheel drive cars in GM. I mean, this is a time of transition for the entire industry.

Mr. COLE: Absolutely. The joint venture is at New United Motors Manufacturing in California. That came under Roger's watch. And front-drive vehicles. A sort of global presence.

CHADWICK: The car companies today - GM among them - are in trouble. Do people look back and say Roger Smith didn't do the right thing? Or did he leave GM in pretty good shape?

Mr. COLE: He believed in change. He redirected the structure of General Motors, and there were some good and bad dimensions to this. He was a bold (unintelligible) leader, and because of that he is somebody that will be remembered, I think, with a very, very mixed legacy, probably far more positive than would be reflected if we just used Michael Moore's "Roger & Me" as the measurement of Roger's success.

CHADWICK: Dave Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Former General Motors chairman Roger Smith died Thursday at the age of 82.

Dave Cole, thank you.

Mr. COLE: Thanks very much, Alex.

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