General Motors chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre this afternoon told a Detroit press conference he would remain in the chief executive role for the foreseeable future. GM also expected to pay back US and Canadian government loans by June.

He declined to discuss details of candidates so far interviewed for the hot seat in the Renaissance Centre.

In a brief question and answer session following a minutes-long update on the Saab sale process – negotiations with Spyker are continuing, was all he’d say – Whitacre, once CEO of AT&T, said he’d spend whatever time was needed in Detroit to do the job but would not be selling the house in Texas he’d lived in a long time.

“The board asked me if I’d do [the CEO job] and I said ‘yes’, ” he said. He referred questions on who else might have been considered to the board.

He confirmed a search had taken place. He added he hadn’t come to GM [on 1 December after the board ousted former CEO Fritz Henderson] with the intention of being CEO long-term “but, as so often happens, you get in the middle of something and you start to like the people and you make some leadership changes [he’s made many; one appointee left after nine days after Whitacre moved Bob Lutz to a new role], you feel very comfortable with them, you feel very optimistic about the future; you sort of get pulled in.

“I didn’t know that was going to happen to me, in fact I planned for it not to happen, but it happened anyway and I feel very comfortable with the leadership team.”

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“One thing led to another and here I am,” he added.

“This place needs stability,” Whitacre said, confirming that newly hired (from Microsoft) CFO Chris Liddell would be arriving permanently next week. “He’s a terrific guy and I look forward to working with him,” he said. “We have a very close relationship; I think we’re of a like mind and we’re going to be good together.”

He is happy with the leadership team he’s put in place – a mix of a small number of new hires and many promoted from within “but to me they’re new” – though there were more changes to make yet, some “rearrangement” at “middle management level”. He added the company had “work to do” on the sales and marketing organisation and “everywhere.

“We have an ongoing need to do a lot of things in a different place but I don’t think you’ll see any massive organisational changes. We’ll be doing a lot of adjusting and fine tuning.

“I’m very comfortable with the leadership team we have and I think they’re very capable and I think you’re going to see that in the results as we go forward.”

He did not expect the board to appoint anyone to president and/or COO roles for the time being.

He declined to discuss his remuneration and insisted he was not taking on the role for personal benefit.

“It’s the same motivation as when I started. I think this company is good for America, I think America needs this, I think it’s good for the people here; this is a huge employer which has a lot of tentacles be it suppliers, customers, etc. I just think this is the right thing for this country and my motivations for doing this have not changed.

“This is certainly not for a personal benefit for me. I look at it that, I guess, it’s partly public service, partly what I think is good for this country. These are great people here and I think that it is necessary for this country to have a great manufacturer.”

Asked about profitability, he said the company had been doing well this month in its international operations. “Europe is hopeful, it’s better than some had anticipated, North America looks pretty good and, in fact, I’m most encouraged.

“Across the board, things are good and I think we have a lot to look forward to.”

GM would repay US$8.1bn loans from the US, Canadian and Ontario provincial governments in one payment and might hand over the money earlier than June.