The outgoing president of General Motors North America and incumbent executive vice president of product development Mark Reuss has confessed that the company had prioritised infotainment development over engineering.
Speaking at the Detroit auto show, Reuss said of the past five years at General Motors that “we went through an era here where there were certain people who thought that if we just did the coolest telematics and driver infortainment thing that we would win [in the market].
“Obviously nobody is going to care about how a car drives, how the car sounds, how the car crashes … it’s all going to be about infotainment.
“All those things are important, but are they the defining things on how good a car is? Not always. That won’t always separate you, but the core fundamentals of the car will.
“If someone says ‘I’m buying it because it’s got the coolest screen in the industry’, they might buy that car for that, but if they buy that car and they live with that car for two years and it drives terribly or they get into an accident and someone gets hurt because it crashes terribly, that puts at risk the loyalty of that customer coming back.”
General Motors products imported to Australia, such as the Holden Barina and Malibu, have been among the first cars in the class to feature large infotainment screens with ‘app’ connectivity, but their driving characteristics have largely been criticised.
American-born Reuss, who ran Holden in 2008 and 2009, also explained the reasons for some of the decision-making problems, and how he and incoming GM CEO and close friend Mary Barra would solve them.
“We had … administrators in product development instead of executive chief engineers that were trained engineers who go after ‘winning’ with the car [itself], instead of an administrator who may or may not have been an engineer who looked at acceptable trade-offs in terms of the matrix that flat-out didn’t work.
“We saw things that were important to customers that were not put in cars, and that’s a big mistake.”
Under the leadership of Barra, he says “product excellence is what we’re really focused on delivering.”
“I think she [Barra] knows a lot about the product.
“She experienced the product mistakes, the car development mistakes from a financial standpoint that we made in the past, and so that depth of understanding of those mistakes … and the success of turning that to a different place is pretty profound in this business.”
In the next five years, Reuss states, “I would like to see General Motors known for reliability, durability and customer service in our dealerships. That is undisputed leadership.
“Now we’ve got to do that for a while, to erase what people thought of this company and its products for decades.
“We have to do that over and over and over again."