Troy A. Clarke, president of GM's North American operations, said in an interview Tuesday that many people didn't realize how much the industry had changed.
"People are carrying around with them an image of our industry from the 1970s," he said.
As evidence of the industry's new face, Clarke pointed to the landmark union contract in 2007 that would significantly reduce labor and retiree costs, as well as the forthcoming Chevrolet Volt, an electric car with a backup gasoline-powered generator. The company says the Volt should travel 40 miles on a single charge.
"This is a dynamic industry that is well on its way to becoming a very lean competitor that's going to compete on the basis of advanced technology," Clarke said.
GM chief Wagoner told the Senate panel that products weren't the company's problem.
"What exposes us to failure now is not our product lineup, is not our business plan, is not our employees and their willingness to work hard, is not our long-term strategy," Wagoner said. "What exposes us to failure now is the global financial crisis, which has severely restricted credit availability and reduced industry sales to the lowest per-capita level since World War II."