GM Director Says Turnaround Plan Assumes a 19%-plus Domestic Market Share

Participating in a panel discussion at the Columbia Business School on Thursday, General Motors Company board member Stephen Girsky said that the automaker’s turnaround strategy is built on the assumption that it can retain over 19% of the domestic auto market.

Girsky said, "The public plan is 19 percent and change. That is what everything is being based on," Girsky said during a panel discussion at a conference at Columbia Business School.

A former Morgan Stanley analyst, Girsky is an independent consultant who joined General Motors’ 13-member board as a representative of the United Auto Workers union after the troubled automaker emerged from restructuring bankruptcy this past July.

In May, GM released its restructuring plan based on maintaining a market share of 18.5% and commanded a 19.5% share as of the last month.

GM has seen steady erosion in its domestic market share. In 1962, the company controlled 51.1% of the U.S. market, but by 2002 that number had slipped to 29% as foreign automakers were introduced in greater numbers.

In other remarks during the panel discussion Girsky said that, in general, there is too much capital tied up in the industry with automakers borrowing from their dealers, suppliers, employees and retiree pensions. Adding to the problem are the high cost of reducing production capacity and the relatively low cost of entry for new competitors.

At one point, Girsky was asked to comment on the success Carlos Ghosn has had in revitalizing Nissan’s futures through its deal with French automaker, Renault. Girsky pointed to Ghosn’s ability to empower the “car guys” within the organizations. He said, "I do think there are car guys at GM. It’s about empowering them."

Projecting 10 to 20 years into the future, Girsky said he envisions an auto industry that caters more to the wants and needs of the consumer. In that environment, Girsky sees an industry in which automakers assemble the vehicles while consumers focus on the branded elements inside. (I don’t exactly get this either but that’s what the article said) He said that in such a scenario, new car and truck buyers would base their buying decisions on which automaker offers the best battery or which one has the best designers.

GM recently projected total U.S. auto sales to reach 11.5 million units in 2010; however, many analysts have placed that number much higher, at between 12-13 million units. Participants in the panel discussion with Girsky offered their own predictions.

Former White House chief of staff under President Clinton, Thomas “Mack” McLarty said he expects domestic auto sales to reach between 12 million and 15 million within the next five years. McLarty’s family has owned and operated auto dealerships for decades. Another family business, McLarty Leasing Systems, is one of the nation’s largest transportation companies.

Another participant on the panel was AlixPartners managing director Al Koch who also heads the Motors Liquidation Company (the “Old GM) who estimated sales to reach between 12 million and 13 million.

WL Ross & Company managing director Stephen Toy set the bar at between 13 million and 14 million units sold “in the medium term”. WL Ross & Company has invested heavily in the automotive parts sector.

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