GM CEO calls Toyota Prius a 'geek-mobile,' touts Chevrolet Volt

Dan Akerson's tough words about the Toyota Prius suggest that GM is trying to get its swagger back. One of the reasons GM is confident: the all-electric Chevrolet Volt.

Susan Walsh/AP
General Motors CEO Dan Akerson gestures while speaking at the Economic Club of Washington Friday. He took aim at the Toyota Prius and promoted the Chevrolet Volt.

The chief executive officer of General Motors used a public appearance Friday to slam the Toyota Prius hybrid, calling the car a "geek-mobile" that he would never want to drive.

The comment by Dan Akerson, who recently took the reins at GM, was partly a tough-talking way to focus attention on his own company's new electric offering, the Chevrolet Volt.

But the fighting words may also have been a way to say, loudly, that GM is standing tall again. After going through bankruptcy, a government bailout, and a bruising battle with Toyota over which will be the world's top carmaker, Mr. Akerson's tone is as important as his specific words.

GM is back on offense.

Taking a page from some execs in the high-tech industry, Akerson bluntly disparaged a rival's product.

"We commonly refer to the geek-mobile as the Prius. And I wouldn't be caught dead in a Prius," Akerson said at the Economic Club of Washington, as reported by Associated Press. Speaking of the Chevy Volt, he added: "This actually looks good."

GM bills the plug-in Volt, soon to arrive in showrooms, as the "world’s first electric vehicle with extended range capability."

The Volt faces competition not only from gas-elecric hybrids like the Prius, but also from the fully electric Nissan Leaf.

In his speech, Akerson focused on GM's comeback trail since the financial crisis and the related plunge in US auto sales.

At the beginning of December, the company said sales of its four core brands, collectively, are up 22 percent so far this year, compared with the same 11 months in 2009. Progress has come in all categories: cars, trucks, and "crossover" sport-utility vehicles.

GM has also made progress toward exiting from a government bailout, raising money recently with a stock offering that moves it toward ownership by private-sector investors and a trust for retired assembly line workers. Akerson used the podium in the nation's capital to thank US taxpayers for helping the company survive.

Akerson said the company still faces a challenge retaining top talent and called for an end to executive-pay caps that the government has imposed on companies recieving federal bailouts.

Toyota, for its part, sold 4,400 fewer vehicles in the US in November than it did during the same month last year. Although Toyota still rivals GM for leadership in the global car market, recall woes have slowed its advance.

In the US, Toyota ranks third in sales, with 15 percent of the market this year compared with 19 percent for GM and 16.5 percent for Ford.

Whatever Akerson thinks of the Prius, it still has some fans. Toyota sold 10,224 Prius units last month, up 2 percent from last November. By comparison, GM had only four models that sold 10,000 or more units in November, all from Chevy: the Malibu, Impala, Equinox, and Silverado.

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