GM chairman: Auto industry growth to continue

Posted on April 5, 2013

General Motors Co. Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson said Thursday that the growth of U.S. auto industry could continue for the next several years as consumers continue to replace their older vehicles. The average age of a vehicle on the road today is about 11 years.

“There’s this underpinning strength that may go for the next four or five years,” Akerson said during a live interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” morning show.

He said the end of the payroll tax hurt sales at the beginning of the year. “There’s a little bit of the dampening effect, which I think is maybe healthy for the general economy, but it is going to have an impact for a period of time,” he said.

Akerson spoke on several subjects during his rare, hourlong appearance, including foreign currency affecting business and auto sales, tensions between North Korea and South Korea and the strength of the U.S. auto industry.

Pent-up demand and a stronger housing market are helping sales. GM is forecasting U.S. sales to reach as high as 15.5 million this year. But Akerson appeared cautious at times discussing the industry and economic recovery, saying he thinks the nation’s 7.7 percent unemployment rate feels worse than it is.

But he said the stigma of the “Government Motors” moniker is “largely behind us.”

GM did a survey of consumers coming out of bankruptcy and found there was a marked difference in opinion between GM and competitors. “Today, it’s right with the best there are,” Akerson said.

GM is a different company today, Akerson said, citing the automaker’s $23 billion-plus in profits since bankruptcy, hiring 25,000 U.S. workers and investing $8.5 billion since exiting bankruptcy.

“I think people like an underdog; they like a success story,” Akerson said. “With all that success, I think we have a long way to go, and we have a lot more to prove, and we’ll do it.”

Akerson helped a co-host into the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray convertible and also touted the new ATS, which he said was built to compete specifically with the BMW 3-Series and outperforms the German car on virtually all levels.

“This is American ingenuity; this is American innovation at its best,” he said.

Akerson said the Cadillac brand has many firsts such as an electric start and air conditioning.

“But we let it go stale in the ’60s and ’70s, and as a result, it didn’t go global when all of the others, the Audis, the BMWs and Mercedes did. Now it is.”