Evidently it takes a Navy man to tell China’s bureaucrats that some things are just too important to trade away for incremental sales in the world’s fastest growing auto market. But that’s what General Motors Co. CEO Dan Akerson is doing, and he deserves credit for standing tall.
A report in today’s Wall Street Journal says Akerson refuses to “share electric-car technology in exchange for hefty consumer rebates from the Chinese government” to drive sales of GM’s Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric car. Amen.
“There are technology risks, there are relationship risks, there are business risks. I am sure China will do what’s best for China,” he told the Journal in an interview. “But you ignore China at your own peril.”
Yes, you do. But American CEOs hungry to grow their businesses in the face of slack demand at home also run the risk of imperiling their long-term competitiveness and their innovation if they’re too quick to trade both for short-term sales gains that diminish quickly. A truism about access to China is that it almost never comes without a big price, and so often that price is measured in terms of relationships that can give the Chinese access to technology developed by others.
With its joint-venture holdings and SAIC partnership in Shanghai, GM is the largest automaker in China. If it maintains its momentum and crisp management there, it can stay that way — even without bargaining away the technical brains of the Volt. Good call.