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General Motors Struggles to Break Out From Uncle Sam's Shadow

Tuesday, 24 Jan 2012 | 2:22 PM ET
Daniel Akerson, Managing Director of The Carlyle Group
Source: mason.wm.edu
Daniel Akerson, Managing Director of The Carlyle Group

Welcome back to DC Mr. Akerson!

General Motors, the company that needed Washington's help to survive, now finds itself struggling to break out from the shadow of Uncle Sam.

The latest example comes with Akerson testifying before the House Oversight Committee about the Chevy Volt battery investigation.

Committee Chair Rep. Darrell Issa wants GM and federal investigators to explain how the case was handled. In short, Rep. Issa is wondering if NHTSA downplayed potential problems with the Volt battery catching on fire. Why? Perhaps because the US still owns 25% of GM and if NHTSA made a big stink about GM's halo car possibly being unsafe it could harm the automaker. At least that's the suggestion coming from some circles in DC and elsewhere around the country.

Forget that GM has announced a fix for the Volt batteries and NHTSA has officially closed its investigation into the matter. That's not the issue for GM right now.

The problem for Akerson and his team is that it continues to struggle to break the connection between GM and the federal government. That connection still bothers a lot of people.

While traveling across the country I routinely hear two comments from people I meet: "Good to see Detroit doing better" and "Is GM still owned by the government?" Imagine what those people and others will think as they watch or read about Akerson and government officials answering questions on Capitol Hill. Both will say nothing improper took place. That's a separate discussion.

For millions of Americans the image of GM back in Washington will reinforce a relationship they don't like.

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  • Phil LeBeau is a CNBC auto and airline industry reporter based in the Chicago bureau and editor of the Behind the Wheel section on CNBC.com.

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