Press previews kicked off on Monday for the Detroit Auto Show, and it’s no overstatement to say that the American car industry is feeling very good about itself.
The energy in the Motor City is unlike anything I’ve seen in over a decade of writing about the car business.
But even though the US auto market set a sales record in 2015, the vibe isn’t one of overconfidence. But there is a strong sense of self assurance.
At General Motors credit goes to something unfamiliar for the automaker.
“We have total leadership alignment in the company,” vice-president Mark Reuss — the number two guy with CEO Mary Barra and the executive responsible for guiding GM’s vehicle development — told Business Insider in an interview from the show floor.
You might ask why this is a such a big deal. It’s because GM’s history hasn’t always been one of its executives getting along. GM is a gathering of car divisions — now Chevy, Cadillac, GMC and Buick, but once many more — and those divisions and their leaders have often detrimentally competed again each other.
Not these days, Reuss says.
“We all like each other and totally respect each other,” he said. “Silos are a bad construct,” he added, referring to GM’s past tendency to function as a group of warring fiefdoms.
Reuss, Barra, and the rest of GM’s top executive team took over at a deeply challenging point in the company’s history. The bailouts and bankruptcy of 2009 were a fresh memory, GM had shed weak brands such as Pontiac and Hummer, and the car maker has just been hit with a massive ignition-switch recall for a pervasive technical flaw in millions vehicles that led to hundred of deaths.
It was trial by fire, but GM worked through the crises and maintained its cadence of new product introductions, culminating with the official rollout of the Chevy Bolt EV at CES in Las Vegas last week.
“For the first time in my career, there isn’t a car out there that I wouldn’t recommend,” Reuss said of the lineup of cars, trucks, SUVs, and crossovers that GM has at the Detroit show.
And it isn’t just multiple versions of the same vehicles — the dreaded consequence of “platform engineering” and something GM has been accused of in the past.
“Our brands are as different from each other as they have even been,” he said.
For GM, the Detroit Auto Show hasn’t always been an occasion to celebrate since 2009.
But for Ruess, it clearly is now.