By TOM KRISHER, Associated Press
DETROIT (AP) — Mark Reuss has arguably the most important job at General Motors.
He runs the company's North American business, its largest and most profitable. Lately, the unit has made more than enough money to offset problems in other parts of the world.
The veteran engineer took the post in December of 2009 after running GM's operations in Australia and New Zealand.
Reuss, 48, quickly scrapped cumbersome meetings, replaced executives and helped shepherd new products through the pipeline, including the Chevrolet Cruze compact, the new Malibu midsize sedan and two new Cadillacs that will debut later this year.
The results speak for themselves. North America made a pretax profit of $7.2 billion in 2011, and $1.7 billion in the first quarter. In Europe, though, GM lost $256 million, and its South American profit fell 8 percent to only $83 million.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Reuss discussed GM's turnaround and its future. The interview took place before GM decided to pull its advertising from the Facebook social media site. Reuss' remarks are edited for length and clarity.
— GM's market share slid from around 20 percent last year to 16.4 percent in March. Did that scare you? No, Reuss says. The company rebounded to regain a full point of market share in April. He blamed the drop on the phasing out of old Buick and Cadillac models that were sold mainly to rental car companies. GM's retail sales to individual buyers continue to rise, as do the prices people pay for its cars and trucks. He expects to gain market share as GM refreshes 70 percent of its U.S. model lineup in the next 18 months.
— Will pickup trucks and engines get smaller because of high gas prices? Businesses are likely to buy smaller trucks if they can do most of what a larger truck can do, yet save on gas, Reuss says. GM plans to have efficient V-8 engines on its new Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups due out next year. But smaller engines with turbochargers may be in the offing, especially in new versions of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon midsize pickups, he said.
— Are you happy with GM's marketing and will you keep the "Chevy Runs Deep" ad campaign? GM's marketing is working, Reuss says, but the company can always do better. He thinks "Chevy Runs Deep," which plays on Chevrolet's century of car building, will stay. "We get really good reaction to it. Is it forever? Nothing's forever. But I think it's done a good job for us." The company said earlier this year that the campaign was under review.
— On the possibility of succeeding CEO Dan Akerson when he leaves: "That's honestly the last thing on my mind," Reuss says, adding that it wouldn't matter to him if he didn't get the job. "If I can be around cars, touch cars and do the job I'm doing, I can't ask for anything more."
—When does a new Volt electric car come out and when does the price drop? (Volt has a base price of just over $39,000): The cost will drop with each model year as engineers make the car more efficient, Reuss says. The battery could get smaller, and the engine and transmission parts will become lighter and cost less. "I think the car just naturally comes down in price and becomes much more efficient year after year after year."
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