Mark Reuss: GM can't afford product 'misses,' has 'thought about' CT6 V-Series

Catching Up With The General's Product Czar

Mark Reuss is a busy man. He oversees General Motors' global product portfolio, an all-encompassing task for a company that sold more than 9.9 million cars and trucks last year. When GM launches a well-received product, like the road-going rocket ship that is the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 – he gets credit. When the company stumbles with the slow-selling Chevy Malibu or grapples with fallout from the decade-old Saturn Ion and its flawed ignition switch, he gets blamed. GM owners, the press and sometimes the federal government, demand answers.

Bob Lutz famously held the job before Reuss. So did Mary Barra, who's now GM's chief executive. There's a New GM, but the lineage is connected to a long history. When he's not thinking product, Reuss, an executive vice president, also runs the purchasing and supply chain for the company, which is still one of the largest industrial empires in the world.

We caught up with Reuss on the floor of the New York Auto Show, where GM had just rolled out two crucial new products: the 2016 Cadillac CT6 and the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu. Speaking with a small group of reporters, Reuss delved into a variety of subjects, including the new Malibu, Cadillac's future (he thinks the ATS-V is going to "flame the M3 and M4"), and other topics.

On fixing the Malibu:

"We can't miss. We can't have those kinds of misses [like the previous generation] on our cars and crossovers and trucks. We can't do that. If we do that, we give a reason for someone to go buy something else. It's that simple.

"On a car like the Malibu we have a chance to really fix all of that, which we have, and then lead. Then you've got a real opportunity there. So that's what we've really been focused on here – to fix those things."

He later added:

"We need that car here to transform Chevrolet desperately because it's the heart of the market. And when you think of Chevrolet, people will come back and think about what we did with the [new] Malibu and the Cruze... It's hugely important to us."

On Cadillac:

"If we go out and try and out-German the Germans, it's probably not going to work. We've got an opportunity here generationally where there's a lot of people younger than me that have parents that drove BMWs and Mercedes, and I think there's an opportunity there for those people to drive something different than what their parents did, and I think that's always been an opportunity in the auto industry if you look at the history of it.

"We want to be the company that offers something really different, and that means probably different value equation, probably different powertrain equation, probably different styling equation, that's very American. And not syrupy retro. That's not the answer to that.

"Creating what Cadillac should be in the future for the future generation is what we're trying to do there. And that's hard to do, but we know what these folks value, and again it's design and vehicle dynamics and performances. It's still a statement of who you are and what you value.

"I think Cadillac is a smart buy in whatever segment we're in there. The dramatic styling is going to be very important. We know how to make pretty amazing ride-and-handling and performance cars out of Cadillacs, too. We've got an ATS-V that's going to flame the M3 and M4, and then we've got a CTS-V that's a 200-mile-an-hour hammer. Those are credibility punctuations. And then we'll have CT6, which is sort of a technical tour de force, which is quite different than any other car in that segment."

On a potential CT6 V-Series:

"The [CT6] architecture is certainly capable of doing it," he said. The question is who's going to buy the CT6? What kind of person? And do we need a V-Series off of that is the question we haven't answered yet. It's certainly capable of doing it... we've certainly thought about it."

On a Cadillac sports car:

"That's always very intriguing to me because I did the original Cien concept, which was really cool, I thought. I loved it. It was really nice. But you've got to make a business out of that. We haven't frankly studied that yet. We're trying to fill in as a priority the Cadillac entries that we don't have in the marketplace on a volume and profit basis first. You've got to make money doing them."

On the 2016 Chevy Volt's mainstream design:

"That's the way the market's moving, and that's what people are telling us. It's that simple. It's customer driven. That was part of the reason why frankly some people didn't buy the original Volt, was because it was a little bit, especially at the end of the life cycle... it looks like a little bit of a science experiment."

On the future of the Buick Avenir concept:

"We always do business cases on things that are very nice and attractive like that. So yeah, we're absolutely... you know looking at... you know, it was such a hit, what would it look like in production, what would it cost to do it. So that's where we're at."

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