July 10, 2014 at 7:24 pm

GM taps Cadillac chief to run public policy

Ferguson (Jeffrey Sauger / Cadillac)

Washington — General MotorsCo. formally announced Thursday it was naming its Cadillac chief — and former top lobbyist — to again head its global public policy operations — more than three months after he began heading up the Detroit automaker’s response to the ignition switch crisis in Washington.

GM named Robert E. Ferguson as senior vice president for global public policy reporting directly to CEO Mary Barra — his second time in the job. Ferguson in October 2012 left the job running GM’s public policy operations to go to Detroit to head GM’s Cadillac brand.

Cadillac spokesman David Caldwell said the luxury brand will name a replacement for Ferguson soon.

“We need Bob’s leadership and full focus on rebuilding relationships and instilling confidence in GM’s efforts to create a new industry standard for safety,” Barra said in a statement. “As GM’s voice in critical policy issues, Bob will communicate a clear sense of purpose and collaborative spirit.”

Ferguson has been at Barra’s side for her appearances on Capitol Hill and when she met with the relatives of those killed in crashes connected to its recall of 2.6 million older Chevrolet Cobalt, SaturnIon and other cars for defective ignition switches linked to 13 deaths and 54 crashes.

GM has come under harsh scrutiny from members of Congress and the automaker has redoubled its efforts to rebuild relationships on Capitol Hill. GM offered Barra to return for more meetings before a Senate panel holds a hearing July 17 on GM’s recalls, but was told that wasn’t necessary.

Some of GM’s long-time Republican supporters are still angry about the automaker’s role in the 2012 presidential campaign when President Barack Obama invoked the government’s bailout of the Detroit automaker.

Even members of Congress from states where GM has a large presence had little positive to say about the automaker in auto safety hearings that started in April. GM paid a record setting $35 million fine to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in May; Ferguson helped lead the talks between GM and NHTSA to reach an agreement that includes up to three years of increased oversight by NHTSA of GM’s safety efforts.

Ferguson, 54, joined GM in 2010 as vice president for global public policy and served in that position through October 2012.

Ferguson was tapped by then-GM CEO Dan Akerson to head Cadillac’s global efforts. Cadillac saw nearly 30 percent global growth, highest among all full-line luxury brands, and U.S. growth of 22 percent, but its sales has struggled this year; down 1.9 percent in the first half of the year. Caldwell said Cadillac expects sales for the year will be up over last year.

The Detroit News first reported in March that Ferguson had been in Washington to work on GM’s response to two congressional committees and NHTSA, and was expected to leave Cadillacto return to his government relations job full time.

For now, the brand’s duties are being handled by Uwe Ellinghaus, who became Cadillac’s global chief marketing officer in January, and Kurt McNeil, GM’s vice president of U.S. sales operations. McNeil assumed sales and service duties for Cadillac in the U.S. — at least temporarily — after Bill Peffer, U.S. vice president for Cadillac sales and service resigned last month.

GM hired Ellinghaus, a former BMW executive who had most recently worked for luxury pen, watch and jewelry maker Montblanc International, late last year.

Ferguson, who succeeds Selim Bingol, who ran both GM public policy and media relations, also will serve as chairman of the GM Foundation and oversee the philanthropic organization’s contributions.