- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2007

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Their proposals all were voted down, but that didn’t stop several dissident General Motors Corp. shareholders from criticizing Chairman Rick Wagoner about the company’s market share decline and plans for the future at its annual meeting yesterday.

Although Mr. Wagoner opened the 2-hour meeting with a speech touting progress the company has made in its turnaround plan and on advanced technology, several shareholders expressed dismay at the pace, saying GM was in a crisis and the board had not moved quickly enough to demand change.

“In my opinion, this company has turned around so many times we’re going in circles. And that circle is leading us right down the drain,” said shareholder James M. Dollinger of Flint, Mich.

He said the shareholder proposals didn’t stand a chance because the Detroit company is controlled by large banks, which make money off its debt offerings.

“That’s where all the money’s going. The banks have got to go,” Mr. Dollinger said.

In all, 10 shareholder-backed proposals were voted down, including a bylaws change proposed by the Community of the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, N.J., that the company set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve fuel efficiency.

Shareholder John Lauve, of Holly, Mich., said time is running out for GM’s comeback.

“The board has not demanded the necessary changes now,” he said, pointing out that GM has lost 10 percentage points of market share in the past 10 years.

Since 2005, GM has cut $8 billion in annual costs, let go more than 34,000 hourly workers and rolled out more than 20 new models in an effort to regain sales lost to Asian competitors.

Although it made a $62 million net profit in the first quarter, the company still lost an adjusted $85 million on its North American operations. Last year it lost $2 billion, a vast improvement over a restated loss of $10.4 billion in 2005.

Mr. Wagoner, in his opening remarks, said the company’s North American turnaround strategy is working faster than expected with cost cuts and new products to increase revenue. He said the company has made progress with the United Auto Workers in becoming more competitive, but more needs to be done in national contract talks this summer.

GM, he said, must “further reduce our still unsustainable health care bill, which was a staggering $4.8 billion in 2006.”

The company’s priorities for 2007 include staying focused on the turnaround, driving growth in emerging markets such as China, continuing to run GM as a global company and pursuing advanced propulsion at a rapid pace, he told about 100 people in attendance.

He announced that GM had awarded two lithium-ion battery development contracts to two companies for the Chevrolet Volt, a concept car that has a battery-powered electric motor that can run the car for up to 40 city miles on a single charge. Beyond that, a gasoline-powered, 1-liter, three-cylinder engine can generate electricity to replenish the battery, giving the car a range of up to 640 miles. The battery system can be plugged into a home outlet for recharging.

After the meeting, Mr. Wagoner told reporters the company had targets for bringing the Volt to market, but he would not reveal them. He said they were moving as fast as possible on the car, but were not obsessed by any timeline.

“It’s more, can we keep our feet in front of us running every day,” he said.

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