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Reuss Gives Tesla Props, Loves His Old ’Vette

Executive Summary

GM’s Mark Reuss praises Tesla as a worthy competitor in the EV sector and talks at length about his beloved ’54 Corvette, which required more than a little elbow grease on his part.

ROYAL OAK, MI – Mark Reuss, executive vice president-global product development, purchasing and supply chain at General Motors, spoke this week at the Woodward Dream Cruise Business Breakfast hosted by WWJ AM 950 and John McElroy, producer of “Autoline” and a WardsAuto columnist.

The free-flowing conversation was steered by questions from WWJ listeners in the audience under a tent alongside Woodward Avenue, which tomorrow will host the world’s largest 1-day car event, for more than 1 million people. It’s the 20th year for the Dream Cruise.

Asked if Tesla will remain a high-end niche player for electric vehicles or if GM considers the California automaker a serious competitor in the future, Reuss tips his hat to Tesla.

“Absolutely we view them as completely a serious competitor in every way,” he says, adding Tesla’s EVs have done well in benchmarking by GM engineers. “Some of our engineers went to Tesla, and some have come back. We have a good relationship technically with them as well.”

He welcomes Tesla’s foray into less-expensive mass-market vehicles. “I believe they will be good at it,” Reuss says. “I think America needs that company. I think America needs people like (Tesla founder) Elon Musk doing that. I totally respect what they do and how they’re doing it.”

As the conversation turned to classic cars, Reuss talked about his ’54 Chevrolet Corvette and the work necessary to make it road-worthy as a gift to himself for his 50th birthday. He drove the car to the event here.

I never really could afford an early ’Vette because they only made about 3,600 of them. They didn’t make many black ones. They don’t really know how many they made, but it’s under 10.

The car I bought there I found on the Internet in St. Louis in what was called the St. Louis Car Museum. The car hadn’t run in a little while. It sat for many years, and I don’t pretend to know how to do fiberglass layups that were hand-done in ’54. But I kind of do mechanical stuff.

It’s not a fast car, but it’s a pretty car. When we got it here, one of the cam lobes had worn off, so it wasn’t opening the valves all the way. The carburetors were interesting, and it was a 6V system that had been converted to a 12V starter.

The electrical piece of it was not good, either. None of the dash lights worked. The Powerglide (transmission) is an old cast-iron Powerglide so there’s lots of things, mechanical linkages that I had to replace.

Uh Oh, Why Isn't It Stopping?

I lost the brakes on it one day, out here (on Woodward). It was not fun. By the way, BP does have a curb stop (lots of crowd laughter). I’m like, ‘I’m not stopping.’

Those are the things you get with an old car like that, and you’ve got to bleed the brakes and put in the right amount of fluid.

I just finished the interior about three weeks ago. I put in new seats, new carpet and all that. I love doing that stuff.

Someone asked me, ‘Did you drive the car, did you have to trailer it?’ I drive that car. I drive all my cars. I will drive that up to Flint and do all that too, for Back to the Bricks (a Buick-sponsored classic-car event Aug. 12-16 in Flint, MI).

I love the car, the way it makes me feel. I’m not a big hot rodder. It’s really hard for me intellectually to take a car that I know was put into production and do something like that to it, because I know what it took to get there. It’s hard. This is a hard business.

So that car – I know what happened in the company when it was being done. This is the first American sports car. It started it all. Ed Cole (former chief engineer and later GM president) and those guys put that car together and got it into production – all that history. I get to touch it. And I get to ride in it, and I get to drive it because I couldn’t experience it.

So for me, it’s pretty amazing when I go out to the garage.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com

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