At its first meeting, the board overseeing the new General Motors Co. ordered management to bring some new vehicles to market faster, a sign that the new 13-member board will play a far larger role than the old one.
Board Chairman Edward Whitacre Jr., in a conference call with reporters Wednesday, would not identify which vehicles were pulled ahead, but said the board of the government-controlled company emphasized fuel efficiency as well as other areas.
"I'll tell you there were some suggestions made," said Whitacre, former CEO of telecommunications giant AT&T. "There were some changes made. This board's going to be very active. We're charged with doing well for the stockholders."
GM, which emerged from bankruptcy protection July 10, can become profitable sooner than most people think, Whitacre said, although he wouldn't give a time frame. The company is not yet profitable despite shedding debts and burdensome contracts in bankruptcy court, he said.
"We've only been at this one month," he said. "It's a complicated financial situation at this point in time. We have an aim for when we'll cross that line."
The board, he said, spent much of its time going over GM's financial statements, then moved to the Milford, Michigan, proving ground northwest of Detroit to drive vehicles.
After the drives, Whitacre said he is confident that GM can protect and grow its market share in the U.S. despite shedding four brands to focus on Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac.
GM ended July with 18.9 percent of the U.S. market, down from 20.5 percent a year ago. The company in the 1950s controlled more than 50 percent of the market.
GM, in a viability plan filed with the U.S. government in April, predicted its U.S. market share would be 19.5 percent this year, 18.9 percent next year and 18.6 percent in 2011.
Whitacre said he is confident the company can maintain those numbers and even grow, despite selling or scrapping Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer and Saab.
Time will tell
"We think it's possible. Time will tell," he said, adding that it's important to grow market share to grow sales.
GM will stick with the Chevrolet Volt rechargeable electric car despite reservations about its prospects of making money that were expressed by members of the Obama administration's auto task force, Whitacre said.
The Volt, due in showrooms late next year, can go 40 miles (65 kilometers) on a single charge from a home electrical outlet. It has a small internal combustion engine on board to generate electricity for the car beyond that.
He called the Volt a "leap in technology" that no one else has, and said the U.S. needs to move toward electric vehicles.
"I think it will be very successful," he said.
Whitacre said the board was interested in pulling more fuel-efficient products forward.
"We're certainly going that direction of more efficient models," he said. "We're looking at reliability. We're looking at efficiency. We certainly will make a major thrust in that direction, but that's not the only direction we're going."