GM Plays The Blame Game & Does The Executive Shuffle — Hello, Goodbye

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What happens when your long term plan implodes? General Motors Co. (GM) is making several changes to its product development team and creating a new role to oversee its global regions. The company says these moves will streamline the organization, allow for faster implementation of new vehicle and technology programs, and accelerate the company’s go-to-market strategies. To many who have been watching the company’s moves this year, it seems like an executive shuffle that’s part of a blame game.

GM Prepares for All-Electric Future via an Executive Shuffle

“We’ve spent years preparing GM to transition to an all-electric future,” GM chair and CEO Mary Barra stated. But that forward thinking hasn’t played out exactly as anticipated. As a result, a 40-year career GM exec is out, and the head of global vehicle and propulsion is in.

Doug Parks has most recently been GM’s leader of global product development, purchasing, and supply chain. Parks will retire after a career in which he led various engineering teams responsible for the introduction of dozens of vehicles across all GM brands and regions. That R&D includes GM’s current generation EVs. “Doug’s leadership has been pivotal. We are grateful for his many contributions to GM’s success,” Barra reinterated.

The GM executive shuffle was announced as follows:

  • Ken Morris, currently vice president of global vehicle and propulsion teams, will be promoted to senior vice president of product programs, product safety, and motorsports.
  • Josh Tavel, currently global vice president of customer care and aftersales, will be promoted to senior vice president of energy storage and propulsion, R&D, and manufacturing engineering. This role will integrate GM’s products and processes in key areas critical to accelerating the company’s electrification strategy, including battery development and manufacturing engineering activities.
  • Rory Harvey, currently executive vice president and president, GM North America, will move to a newly created role as executive vice president and president of global markets. Harvey will work with the global regional teams to match the right vehicles, software, and technologies to customers around the world.
  • Marissa West, currently president and managing director, GM Canada, will join the global markets leadership team as senior vice president and president, GM North America.

All leadership changes will take effect on January 2, 2024.

“The changes we are announcing today will continue to drive technical excellence and deliver groundbreaking vehicles to our customers around the world,” Barra assured shareholders via the GM Pressroom.

Cruise Robotaxi Turmoil Exposes Company’s Frailty

The October 2, 2023 traumatic accident in which a Cruise self-driving vehicle struck and dragged a pedestrian for 20 feet has also caused an executive shuffle. Cruise LLC, which is run under the auspices of GM, didn’t share a key video with California regulators — it was footage that showed the pedestrian under the Robotaxi, named Panini. The original video segment ended when the Cruise stopped for the first time.

“Footage of the subsequent movement of the AV to perform a pullover maneuver was not shown to the [DMV] and Cruise did not disclose that any additional movement of the vehicle had occurred after the initial stop,” the DMV wrote in the order. The DMV wrote that it learned of the subsequent movement “via discussion with another government agency.”

Cruise is facing significant fines for its failure to disclose the essential accident details. Safety concerns and transparency failures combined to make more people than ever question the relevance of autonomous vehicles.

Since then Cruise brought on the law firm Quinn Emanuel, as reported by Bloomberg. The firm will analyze Cruise’ governance, internal processes, and handling of the pedestrian accident. Consult firm, Exponent is now examining the robotaxi technology.

Cruise quit/ fired CEO Kyle Vogt, who apologized to staff for the company’s continuing troubles. “I take responsibility for the situation Cruise is in today,” he wrote in an email. “There are no excuses, and there is no sugar coating what has happened.”

GM then dismissed 9 more top executives. These others weren’t slouches, either — the executive shuffle at Cruise included COO Gil West, government affairs head David Estrada, chief legal officer Jeffrey Bleich, and vice president of global government affairs Prashanthi Raman.

Employees learned of the shakeup via an internal memo, which stated explicitly that the executive shuffle was taking place because of the pedestrian accident.

Cruise co-founder and chief product officer Daniel Kan resigned after Vogt’s departure. The robotaxi fleet has been shut down in the 3 states where it had been operating — California, Texas, and Arizona.

GM has stepped into a larger leadership role of Cruise.

  • General counsel Craig Glidden will share the co-president role with Cruise’s Mo Elshenawy.
  • GM CEO Mary Barra is chair of Cruise, who insists GM remains committed to Cruise and to developing its technology.
  • Jon McNeill is vice chair — the GM board member is also an executive at Tesla and Lyft.

After results are released at the end of the year, Cruise intends to restart on a much smaller scale than the $700 million a quarter it had cost GM. Needless to say, the executive shuffle dampens hopes that GM will pursue its ambitious plans to expand its Robotaxi service to more cities, offering fully autonomous taxi rides.

Final Thoughts

GM’s executive shuffle is an element of much internal hand-wringing as the company plays catch-up with Tesla and other battery electric vehicle manufacturers. The current difficulties are partially of the company’s own doings, as an editorial in Common Dreams argues.

“Instead of increasing investments in more fuel-efficient vehicles to match the foreign competition between 1986 and 2002, GM conducted $20.4 billion in buybacks. And since it was bailed out by taxpayers in 2009, GM has moved another $25 billion into stock buybacks, including the $10 billion recently announced. Had that money been wisely invested in research and development, might GM have become a serious competitor to Tesla? We’ll never know.”

What we do know is that Barra is overhauling GM — again. The newly assigned division heads, including those for vehicle development and EV manufacturing, come as a result of production technology problems and a systemic failure to meet EV output goals.

In the meantime, the company is delaying planned factories and product launches and is even taking a second look at hybrids. (Ah, remember the Volt? Sweet, simple, and a very nice introduction to transportation electrification. “Ditch it!” the yuckity-yucks commanded.) Barra and GM’s board last month launched a $10 billion share repurchase program to buy back the equivalent of a quarter of the automaker’s market capitalization – a bid for support from shareholders at another tenuous moment in the company’s history.

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