Episode 947 – Dan Akerson At It Again, Korean Auto Workers Strike, Frito-Lay’s EV Fleet

August 10th, 2012 at 12:03pm

Runtime: 9:11

GM CEO Dan Akerson is taking GM employees down a peg. The former naval officer criticized employees for leaks to the media, and the company’s products for not being competitive. Auto workers in South Korea are striking for higher pay and an end to night shifts which the workers say are dangerous. Frito-Lay, the snack foods division of PepsiCo, is increasing it’s fleet of EV delivery trucks. The fleet is now the nation’s largest. All that and more, plus we pump up some tires.

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Welcome to Autoline Daily for Friday, the 10th of August. I’m John McElroy and here are some of the latest developments just coming in.

More trouble at General Motors as the CEO, Dan Akerson, castigates company employees at a meeting and conference call. He especially decried leaks to the media, which he called treason, criticized GM’s products as not being competitive, and called for changes in the company culture. He will now force employees to sign a document that addresses those leaks, though GM points out it has always had an ethics policy that employees must sign. Here’s my Autoline Insight. Corporate culture is almost always a reflection of top management’s leadership. And only top management can change that. Ford used to complain about the exact same issues, but under Alan Mulally’s leadership the corporate culture change at Ford is remarkable to behold. The same goes for the changes at Chrysler under Sergio Marchionne. Mr. Akerson’s complaints to his employees reminds me of President Jimmy Carter telling the country that it was suffering from a malaise. That is not the kind of leadership that is going to get GM employees to rally to the cause.

Hyundai workers in South Korea are on strike again. According to the AP, 45,000 workers went on a two-hour strike Wednesday because they want better wages and the end of night shifts, which they say are a health hazard. Workers will also stop building cars for several hours a day between now and August 17th and also refuse to work overtime. Kia workers also plan to join the strike to seek better wages. And GM workers in South Korea went on strike earlier in the week for exactly the same reasons.

Snack-food company Frito-Lay is increasing its fleet of electric trucks in California. By the end of the year, the company says it will have 105 all-electric delivery vehicles in the Golden State and overall it will have 275 EV trucks across the U.S., the largest commercial fleet of EV delivery trucks in the country. Frito-Lay says its fleet will cuts its fuel consumption by 500,000 gallons annually. And overall the company is looking to cut its fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions 50% by the end of the decade. Frito-Lay is owned by PepsiCo.

But in the retail passenger car market, sales of electrics are coming no where near what was expected of them. At the Management Briefing Seminars, the conference that I was reporting from this week, Jim Lentz, the CEO of Toyota in the US, said he’s worried that Toyota will not be able to meet California’s zero emission vehicle mandate. Toyota is just coming out with an electric version of the RAV-4 crossover. But it costs $50,000. Toyota believes it can only sell about 800 of them a year in California, and that’s not enough. It’s a chicken and the egg situation. They can’t sell enough because it costs too much, and it costs too much because they can’t sell enough. And if Toyota can’t sell enough EV’s in California, who can?

It may seem like Audi is trying to reinvent the wheel by replacing the rear view mirror in the R8 e-Tron with a video screen, but there is a reason behind it. The R8 e-Tron has no room for a back window! Instead, a small camera is mounted in a housing on the back of the car where. While the simulated rear view screen provides a view where one was not possible before, Audi says it also does a better job than a standard mirror ever could.  The company says this system provides a larger field of vision and is more effective at reducing headlight glare than a standard mirror. Automotive designers would love to get rid of rear view mirrors because they clutter up designs. Aerodynamicists would love to get rid of them because they add drag. And engineers would love to get rid of them to eliminate the wind noise they create.

Speaking of new electronic technology improving cars, we’ll show you how that system on the new Nissan Altima works that makes it a breeze to check the air in your tires.

One of the fastest ways to boost the fuel economy in a car is to make sure the tires are at the proper pressure, and now Nissan has come up with a super clever way to make that about as easy as it gets.

We actually saw this technology a couple of years ago at a demonstration from the supplier company Continental. The Nissans system uses Conti’s sensors, but Nissan says it developed the software that controls it itself.

And that wraps up today’s show, have a great weekend, and please join us again on Monday to keep track of the latest developments in the global automotive industry.

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35 Comments to “Episode 947 – Dan Akerson At It Again, Korean Auto Workers Strike, Frito-Lay’s EV Fleet”

  1. Chuck Grenci Says:

    It might be almost as ‘green’ if Frito-Lay kept their delivery trucks diesel and burned their manufacturing cooking oil in their vehicles (if they already don’t); I’m thinking of thousands and thousands of gallons/week.

    Nissan’s tire filling scheme looks pretty good. As under-inflated tires can be problematic, I think regular checks (with a real tire gauge) would do more for mileage because by the time your low pressure light comes on, you’ve already driven a lot of miles at an under-inflated condition. I see it as ‘brilliant’ as a last resort notification.

  2. pedro fernandez Says:

    once a month, I check the fluids as well as the tire pressure before I get going, once you use the car, both the oil reading and the tire pressure will NOT be accurate, its supposed to be COLD tire pressure, not HOT tire pressure, I had an argument with a Jiffy Lube tech once who started bleeding my tires cause they had too much air, cause they were hot, I told him not to do so cause I check them cold. These new cars with all this electronic crap, imagine if those side view cameras fail, you’d be driving half blind, unable to check the mirrors which the designers and engineers removed for the sake of being “stylish”.

  3. XA351GT Says:

    Nothing spurs on company loyalty more than a butt chewing for the boss. Good luck with that Dan. It never worked at my job. Could this be the reason of the recent exodus of top brass at the General?

  4. XA351GT Says:

    Not to mention Pedro no where to rest your hand while driving with the windows down . LOL

  5. RS Says:

    I really like the rear camera feature in my new cars and have actually wondered why it has not been considered for normal driving as well as reversing. The display has good peripheral perspective – better than you can get by turning around because the camera can see approaching traffic before you can from the driver’s seat. No reason it could not work all the time with three different displays for the outside mirrors as well. Of course, Blind Spot Warning should be incorporated into the system too. Designers would be able to position the screens in the best possible locations rather than over past the passenger seat. That mirror is blocked at times when your passenger leans forward. About the only difficulty I can foresee would be the need for a washing system to clear dirt/snow/ice from the lens.

    I wonder how Mr. Ackerson made it to the top of anything – never mind the largest auto manufacturer in the nation! He certainly gives every indication of incompetence from the outside. I wonder how Mark Reuss (sp?) is getting along – perhaps he is trying to stay under the radar until the storm is over. He appears to be way too qualified to last for long under this CEO.

  6. pedro fernandez Says:

    My Crapolla has no center arm rest, a constant source of bickering between the missus and me, plus when I’m with her, I cannot open the freaking windows, I say keep the car, dump the wife!

  7. buzzerd Says:

    If you’re like me and have driven a sports car or a cube van with a divider and possibly no rear windows the camera instead of mirror makes a lot of sense. The biggest problem is keeping the camera clear in wet or snowy weather.

  8. Jon M Says:

    Ah yes, rearview cameras. Another neat trick to teach a car that has more cost than benefit. And a neat trick indeed, but not the most practical, considering how the mirror has worked just fine for many decades. But if automakers are so focused on teaching their cars new electronic tricks, why not teach them something really practical. I would suggest the following:

    A sensor that detects when a driver going under the speed limit in the fast lane, which then automatically diverts the annoying impedement into the far light lane where it belongs.

    A device that detects when the turn signal remains on too long while the car is in motion and not turning, which then shouts an aubile “YOUR TURN SIGNAL IS STILL ON” from the speakers at full volume.

    A radar that senses another vehicle riding too closely that emits an offensive, powerful odor into the grill of the offending vehicle

    Finally, a seatbelt that restrains passengers against the seat when it detects anyone in the car leaning forward going uphill.

  9. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Somehow, I’m just partial to windows and mirrors in cars. They are proven technology, with a long track record for reliability.

  10. Lex Says:

    I really believe that Honda needs to wake up because as you can all see Nissan is really listening to it’s customer and putting useful features into their vehicles. I hope that the next update of both the Nissan Rogue & Murano make them compete toe to toe with the Honda CR-V & Pilot. The new Nissan Pathfinder is great looking can not wait to take a test driver.

    Mr. Ackerson need to put a suggestion box outside his office so he can start listening to his employees. The First Suggestion should be that Mr. Ackerson “Resign Effective Immediately” and GM bring in a real car guy to revive the General in the same way Alan Mulally did at Ford. I nominate Roger Penske.

  11. Lex Says:

    All these electronic gizmos are just driving the price of vehicles higher and higher. You think we have problem with “Sudden Acceleration”, wait to the hear the new excuse “Sudden Blindness”. The excuse will be something like this “My electronic mirror faded out / blinked and I did not see that bus in my electronic mirror. Too much technology is taking the fun out of driving.

  12. C-Tech Says:

    I think the tire pressure sensor system from Nissan is a very good idea. Many owners do not keep an air gauge, self-service stations rarely have an accurate one (or free air).

    Split feeling on replacing mirrors with cameras. I personally would choose a rearview camera system. The cost of replacing some of the power and heated mirrors exceed the cost of having a rearview camera. The camera is much less likely to be ripped off in an accident, or on purpose. I have seen many a car without mirror glass, so those who complain about price and potential failure of a camera, it is not much different than a power mirror.

    Gee, if you are the CEO of a company aren’t YOU responsible for how competitive YOUR products (CARS and TRUCKS) are in the marketplace? Aren’t you responsible for the employees chosen to work for the company? Perhaps Mr. Ackerson should send an angry letter to CEO Ackerson?

  13. Kit Gerhart Says:

    GM has mostly competitive products, but I wonder how long that can last with all the turmoil at the top. I agree that Ackerson should go, but I certainly don’t know who should replace him. There’s got to be someone, though, who would be a lot better.

  14. Miradart Says:

    It’s an old line, but I’m sure in printed on a poster on Akerson’s office wall

    “The beatings will continue until morale improves”

    He just has no clue about how to build a team.

  15. gmveteran Says:


    You didn’t mention what company makes the Frito-Lay trucks. Is it Smith Trucks? Are they made here or overseas? I applaud Frito Lay for their efforts. It would be nice not to have smelly diesel delivery trucks smoking out the downtown as restaurants, bars and shops get their supplies delivered.

    On Jon M’s wish list, GM had a feature that would activate a loud intermittent tone after a turn signal was on for more than 1/2 mile. A new Oldsmobile had it in the late 80′s. It was not promoted and has most likely gone by the wayside. Too bad. I see this nearly every time I am on the highway.

  16. pedro fernandez Says:

    GM needs to remove that revolving door from their executive offices, and find someone worthy to do the job, even if it means looking outside the auto industry much like Ford did, If your foundation is shaky, product alone ain’t gonna make it.

  17. Chuck@GM Says:

    John, I just replayed the video with Dan Akerson. Yea he said all those things, but I don’t agree with you characterizing it as a castigation. You may agree or disagree with him on what he is doing, but he is a guy who has it in his mind what he wants to do with this company, what he wants it to be and he was communicating to his troops his perception of the good, the bad and the ugly, with heavy emphasis on the good and how to get where he wants to go. The GM haters can spin it the way they want, but he was nothing like the accounts I’ve read.

    From my point of view, located at the bottom of the totem pole, he wants to update how we do business, the systems we use, take cost out, and have great product and brands.

    Since he is the man in charge, he gets to do it his way.

  18. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I googled it, and Smith makes the trucks. They call them Smith Newton. They have 55mph top speed, a range of 50-150 miles, and a payload of over 16,000 pounds. That’s a lot of potato chips. Also, the truck must have some seriously large batteries.

    See: http://smithelectric.com/customer-stories/fritolay/

  19. Brett Says:


    Pedro, to quote the cartoonist/philosopher B. Kliban, “The wagon of love breaks under the baggage of life.”


  20. pedro fernandez Says:

    Deep stuff, man!

  21. Todd T Says:

    So, let me get this right. Only a so-called “GM Hater” could see the even Mr. Akerson worries that GM’s products are not competitive? I guess I’m a hater too then. More over, I also think they aren’t competitive. And yes, when you are owned by the taxpayer, you do open yourself to more harsh criticism. Add to that, GM’s one-way street relationship with the media (you’re either with us or against us, attitude) and building those sentiments of consumer support are going to be all the more elusive.

  22. pedro fernandez Says:

    Akerson needs to take some ideas from Mulally and yes even Sergio, who does not use the CEO office at Chrysler and instead has a small office near the engineering dept. where he realizes the future of the company resides.

  23. Lex Says:

    GM can be a very competitve automotive company if they consolidate the design and platforms of their vehicles in the same way VW and now Ford is doing. The Cruze, Camaro, Impala are the beginning of the globalization of the face of GM. GM needs to deploy and blend product to beoth Holden and Opel. I hate to say it but rebadging maybe the only way for GM to survive. The only difference this time is for the products to maintain the same names and design in all markets.

  24. XA351GT Says:

    Maybe GM needs to remove more brands from it’s fleet. At least in the US Is there really a good business plan for having GMC trucks when everything they make is offered by Chevy and or Caddy. Buick really needs to hit the bin at least in NA. If they want to use the name for the corporate GMs in China fine just like Holden in Oz and Opel in europe and Vauxhal in the UK. The really only need Chevy and Caddy. Everything else is redundent.

  25. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I certainly agree regarding GMC, but Buick makes sense, if they don’t spend too much money keeping it as a separate “division”. Maybe it could sort of be combined with Cadillac, but the current Buicks should remain Buicks and not become Cadillacs. To call the Regal, or even LaCrosse a Cadillac would undermine the progress Cadillac is making in moving up-market with cars like CTS, and soon ATS.

  26. Jon M Says:

    @ # 16 Pedro

    Dan Akerson is an industry outsider. It just goes to show going outside the industry in and of itself isn’t necessarily the right solution. I’m not saying GM or any of the others should only pull from within their own ranks, it just doesn’t mean the opposite (going outside the industry) equals the answer. Mulally is credited with turning around Boeing, so at least he knew manufacturing in a large corporation. Akerson, on the other hand, is a telecom guy; two CEOs with two very different backgrounds.

  27. kevin m Says:


  28. pedro fernandez Says:

    #25 agree 100% Buick is entry level luxury,Chevy is everyman’s and Caddy is the luxury name, besides there are many people who believe GMC is superior to Chevy and may drop GM if it were to disappear. Problems still seem to be product, the Malibu from all accounts and reviews seems to have taken a step back, it’s 1980′s all over again.

  29. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Yeah, those silly “professional grade” ads actually worked at convincing some people that a GMC is better than a Chevy which is identical, except front end styling.

  30. jmann Says:

    Chuck@GM has it right. It’s often the guys at the “bottom of the totem pole” who see things 20-20. That’s the whole problem, in fact: once people get absorbed into the higher levels they become indoctrinated into the culture; lose their objectivity. That’s why an outsider at the top can be extremely valuable. Bill Ford knows this!

  31. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The new Malibu trades some back seat room for trunk space, but made some gains in refinement and cabin decor. So far, the “eco” mild hybrid is the only version out there, so time will tell how the performance and mpg turn out for the other versions. The eco gets a little, but only a little better mpg than the better of the mid-size 4 cylinder cars with conventional power trains.

    A trait the new Malibu shares with some other GM cars, is that it weighs too much. The Malibu weighs 450 pounds more than a 4 cylinder Camry, and weighs almost 200 pounds more than a Camry hybrid, even though the Camry is roomier.

  32. Dave Forslund Says:

    Diversion? Frito-Lay’s “green” trucks are wonderfully good for us. Frito-Lay’s products are wonderfully good tasting, but just the opposite from being wonderfully good for us.

  33. cwolf Says:

    I hope the Frito EV fleet will save them money. The recent news makes me think this may be a 50-50 gamble, however. One one hand,another Fisker unexpectedly went up in flames. But on the other end,GM reported a 100 and possibly 200 mile range from EV’s in another 2 years. Battery developement is in its infancy,yet showing improvements at an alarming rate. If GM EV’s can soon deliver 100 miles or more on a single charge, the demand for them will sky rocket. I just hope they don’t burn up upon re-entry!

  34. Kit Gerhart Says:

    If nothing else, the Frito trucks will export some pollution from crowded cities to where it, presumably, will do less harm.

  35. Alex Carazan Says:

    GM Leadership is clueless. Still way too many brands and nameplates. Most new vehicles still bland styling. Volt a huge loss for tax payers. No private company would have ever launched it. Loans to GM still not paid off. Socialists in Obummer Admin (Treasury) eliminated pensions for Delphi retirees to prop up union pensions. Dealerships closed that had owners that leaned conservative. The legal maffia! Chrony capitalism…..fasicism. Until GM pays off every $$ of loans…exits the tie to socialist Admin, union ownership, and mass media and replaces Leadership with all NEW leaders who love cars and put the CONSUMER first, GM will fail again!
    Wake UP GM!! GM won’t change and win long term until new leaders enter and ownership control by unions and government is removed. That likely won’t happed for a long time! Too bad. Now only Ford is really only American car company left. GM is a division of liberal left and unions with no ability to change itself because innovation and freedom is the antithesis of such leaders. Now makes much sense why GM becoming close partner with communist China…2 peas in a pod!