Chicago 2008: GM North America president Troy Clarke's opening keynote

If a GM representative is speaking to the public these days, you can bet heavily that biofuels (cellulosic ethanol), E-Flex and the phrase "Gas friendly to gas free" will be uttered. When GM North America president Troy Clarke gave the opening keynote presentation at the Chicago Auto Show today, he followed the script to the letter. During a half-hour talk that sets the stage for the show, Clarke rolled through the points we've come to expect over the past year or so.
In one nice touch, Clarke said that, "If you ask the potential customer about the auto industry, they really don't talk about who's the global sales leader." Clarke's point was that automakers need to give customers what the customers want, not dictate to them the vehicle they will buy. The auto industry is at a crossroads, Clarke said, with energy security and climate change and cost of transportation all causing massive changes. Naturally, Clarke believes that GM has the best slate of candidates for the vote/dollar of the customer. Mandating that all automakers produce a particular approach or a particular solution (i.e., incredibly high mpg vehicles) will not result in good sales or happy drivers. "Extremely small vehicles wouldn't satisfy some customers, even if they got 100 miles per gallon," Clarke said, framing the argument so that you can't say he's wrong. In the end, it's customers who need to define what the automakers make. Of course, Clarke then told a story about a focus group he attended in LA where the members of the public basically said yes, they want a green vehicle, but they then also described that car as a 40 mpg Tahoe.

Aside from the voice of the consumer meme, Clarke once again brought up the Coskata-GM partnership and Coskata's announcement today that it has partnered with ITM to build cellulosic ethanol plants and mentioned the Chevy HHR going flex-fuel. Clarke then broke down once again the GM plan for the future, including biofuels and E-Flex and all that, and mentioned that it'd be good if the government funded more advanced battery research.

One question from the audience is worth mentioning. Asked about the Coskata ethanol process, Clarke couldn't promise that it would result in sustainable ethanol, but did say that he and GM hope and believe it will. You can hear Clarke's speech here (19 MB, 28 min).

Also - the introduction to the keynote gave us this fun trivia for the day: when President McKinley was shot in 1901, he was taken to the hospital in a battery-powered ambulance.

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