Auto Outlook: GM sheds 'Government Motors' moniker, Ford Mustang at 50

By AL SWANSON, UPI Auto Writer
A Ford Mustang featured in the film "Need for Speed" is on display at the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show held at the Convention Center in Los Angeles, California on November 20, 2013. UPI/Phil McCarten
A Ford Mustang featured in the film "Need for Speed" is on display at the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show held at the Convention Center in Los Angeles, California on November 20, 2013. UPI/Phil McCarten | License Photo

It was a historic week for General Motors Co. First the federal government completed its sale of shares in the Detroit icon and second a woman was named to lead the resurgent U.S. automaker.

Mary T. Barra is a 33-year veteran of GM who most recently was executive vice president of global product development.


Described by some industry observers as a "car gal," Barra helped restructure the company's product offerings after the automaker was saved by a Treasury Department bailout in 2009.

In all, the federal government pumped $49.5 billion into GM -- saving hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs at the company and parts manufacturers -- during the worst of the economic downturn. After nearly five years, Treasury sold its final block of 31.1 million shares in GM for a loss of $10.5 billion to taxpayers.

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In 2009, the government owned 910 million shares. GM stock closed at $40.04 on Friday, up more than 40 percent this year.


Most economists say it was worth it. GM is healthy and making profits and the automaker now can pay dividends on its common stock and has no restrictions on compensation for executives.

"With the final sale of GM stock, this important chapter in our nation's history is now closed," U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said.

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A day after Lew's announcement, GM Chief Executive Officer Dan Akerson, 65, announced he is retiring effective Jan. 15 and would be succeeded by Barra, 51, the first female executive to head GM -- or any major auto company.

"With an amazing portfolio of cars and trucks and the strongest financial performance in our recent history, this is an exciting time at today's GM," Barra said in a statement. "I'm honored to lead the best team in the business and to keep our momentum at full speed."

Barra, a married mother of two teenagers, has been at GM since college, joining the company as an 18-year-old co-op electrical engineering student in the Pontiac division in 1980. She has managed an assembly plant and ran GM's human resources departments from 2009 until she was named global product development chief in 2011.


Her father was a GM tool-and-die maker.

"I will leave with great satisfaction in what we have accomplished, great optimism over what is ahead and great pride that we are restoring General Motors as America's standard-bearer in the global auto industry," said Akerson, who became CEO before the restructured GM's initial public stock offering two years ago.

Theodore Solso, former chairman and chief executive officer of engine maker Cummins Inc. replaces Akerson as chairman of GM's board of directors and Dan Ammann, the company's chief financial officer, becomes the company's president.

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Mark Reuss, GM North America president, succeeds Barra as head of global product development. He will also run GM's purchasing and supply chain.

U.S. President Barack Obama, in a statement, praised the turnaround of the domestic auto industry.

"I refused to walk away from American workers and an iconic American industry. But in exchange for rescuing and retooling GM and Chrysler with taxpayer dollars, we demanded responsibility and results. In 2010, we marked the end of an important chapter as Chrysler repaid every dime and more of what it owed the American taxpayers from the investment we made under my administration's watch. Today we're closing the book by selling the remaining shares of the federal government's investment in General Motors. GM has now repaid every taxpayer dollar my administration committed to its rescue, plus billions invested by the previous administration."


Taxpayers lost $1.3 billion of a $12.5 billion investment when Treasury ended its involvement in Chrysler Group LLC in 2011 and the government has recovered about two-thirds of its $17.2 billion bailout of auto lender GMAC, now called Ally Financial Inc.

Canada still owns $4.2 billion in GM preferred stock and the United Auto Workers healthcare trust fund holds $5.4 billion in stock, the Detroit News said.

Ford's Pony car turns 50

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It's been half a century since the first Ford Mustang rolled off the assembly line.

A young college student lucky enough to get a coupe as a graduation present in June 1964 is now a senior citizen, but after 50 years of production and 9 million cars sold, the sixth-generation Mustang is taking to the roadways.

The 1964 1/2 Mustang coupe sold for $2,368 new [$18,000 in 2013 dollars] and the 2015 model made in Flat Rock, Mich., sells for considerably more.

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The sixth generation Mustang fastback still has the vertical tribar taillights and the iconic galloping horse logo on the grill, but is lower, longer and wider than the Mustangs of old. A convertible is planned later.

Ford offers a choice of engines, including a 305-horsepower, twin-turbocharged, 2.3-liter, EcoBoost four-cylinder, a 3.7-liter V-6 generating at least 300 ponies, and a powerful 420-horsepower 5.0-liter V-8. The EcoBoost engine delivers about 25 mpg in combined city-highway driving.


Ford says the new basic Mustang GT V-8 can out-handle a classic Mustang Boss 302, that is until a limited-edition 662-horsepower Shelby GT500 hits the streets sometime in the near future.

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'Taxi of Tomorrow' on the streets of New York

The first dozen of those boxy, yellow Nissan NV200 cabs chosen as New York's Taxi of Tomorrow began plying the city streets in October.

The taxis have panoramic glass roofs, sliding side doors, passenger air bags, climate controls, legroom and anti-bacterial seats, USB ports for recharging portable electronics and at least half of the 13,237 taxis will be wheelchair accessible.

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The administration of outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg this month agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit filed in 2011 when it was learned only a small fraction of the new taxis would be wheelchair accessible, a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, the New York Times reported.

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio favored making more of the taxis accessible for people with disabilities.

Still to be decided is the Bloomberg administration's mandate for taxi owners to buy NV200 minivans when replacing older cabs. New York Supreme Court Judge Peter Moulton in October ruled the city does not have the authority to force taxi medallion owners to purchase a certain vehicle. The city's appeal will be heard in January.


In the meantime, the taxi commission is considering approving a list of features a taxi must have -- like a passenger-controlled climate system. Only the NV200 currently meets the specifications.

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