High Volt-age Project from GM

General Motors is in the midst of a highly visible project that will reinvent the brand, or provide more evidence that, “GM is a sleeping giant,” as a former CEO of Toyota said. The Chevrolet Volt is an electric plug-in hybrid that was introduced at the Detroit Auto Show in 2007. Bob Lutz, the design champion of the Prowler, Viper, Ford Explorer, BMW 3 series, Pontiac Solstice, Saturn Sky, and others, is the brains and the brawn behind the project. This car is cool. Forty miles on a charge from that outlet in your garage, and then, if necessary, a small combustion engine kicks in to recharge the batteries on the road. Top speed of around 120 mph, 0 to 60 scores in at a respectable, albeit quiet, 8.5 seconds. The reclamation of the GM brand as an innovator and leader in automotive technology rests on their ability to meet two publicized goals: First, it has to meet the November 2010 launch goal. Secondly, GM must meet its stated intention of selling this vehicle at a price of $30,000.00. Toyota has said it will have a similar plug-in hybrid available for public sale by that November date. The race is on! As a former GM employee and current stockholder, I am of the opinion that GM cannot afford to lose this one. To win, GM has to reinvent its management and business model. I question whether this new aggressiveness can survive in a culture bloated with bureaucracy and powerful internal departmental silos. Already, they are hedging on the $30K target, though milestones seem to be on schedule for the launch date. Here are some things I would suggest, and I really want to hear from you all on what you think they might do.

To General Motors:

  1. Treat the Volt team like the Saturn Corporation launch. Get them away from Detroit and the GM hierarchy. Let other executives know that this project is hands off. The Volt team needs autonomy.
  2. Call Bob Stempel. As a former CEO of GM and contemporary of Bob Lutz who turned his attention to improving battery technology after his tenure at GM, he would get that this is truly legacy work. He is, and always has been, a real car guy. Jerry Hirshberg is worth a call as well. Both are former GM execs who were ahead of their time.
  3. Be thinking innovation in execution as well as design. Where and how you build this vehicle is critical. History shows the launch phase of projects have been the showstoppers. You will need new manufacturing techniques, new supplier relationships, and importantly, a workforce not constrained by historic labor practices.
  4. Invite the designers from Cadillac and Buick in. Don’t even tell the Cobalt design team where your offices are.
  5. Oh, and don’t tell the finance folks where you are, either.
  6. Attract and retain the best and the brightest for this project. Forget seniority and entitlement.
  7. Give the first models to the folks who had their EV1’s [GM electric car that was for lease only] taken from them. You have a little brand rebuilding to do.

That’s a few things that cross my mind. What do you think? We’re rooting for the home team here in Michigan. This is a WOW! Project for the big three.