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GM Chief Reflects on Industry Changes During Her Tenure

Bill Koenig
By Bill Koenig Senior Editor, SME Media


When Mary Barra took command of General Motors Co., big industry change meant things like a competitor (Ford Motor Co.) coming out with an aluminum large-sized pickup.

In the almost eight years she has been CEO, the industry has seen an electric-car maker (Tesla) become the most valuable automaker. GM has gone all-in on electric vehicles itself.

Meanwhile, the Detroit-based company has confronted a pandemic and a computer chip shortage, events that weren’t foreseen in January 2014. In 2020, COVID-19 disrupted production until automakers implemented new safety procedures. During this year, the shortage of semiconductors forced temporary plant shutdowns.

Despite such challenges, Barra used a public appearance in Detroit this week to express optimism about GM’s prospects.

“The amount of change has been phenomenal,” Barra said at a presentation at the Automotive Press Association. “It is the most exciting time in the industry.”

GM has said it will bring out 30 EVs by 2025. It has unveiled its Ultium platform, which will be the basis of its EV efforts.

For many, Tesla CEO Elon Musk is the face of EVs. His company is seen as the leader in developing EVs. He’s also a colorful character who inevitably attracts attention. What’s more, other traditional automakers also are ramping up their EV offerings.

During her appearance, Barra said GM is making its own strides.

“We’ll just prove it,” she said. “We need to do a better job of telling our story…Everybody (at GM) has a can-do confidence.

“When I say everybody’s in, I mean it,” she added.

The CEO said GM’s corporate culture got a charge in 2020 when the company was pressed to manufacture ventilators because of COVID-19.

That “was a game-changer for us from a culture change perspective,” Barra said. “Everyone knew it was so important. Everyone wanted to pitch in and help.” The executive said the company is adapting such urgency into its EV efforts.

The automaker got an EV publicity lift last month when President Joe Biden took a test drive of an electric GMC Hummer electric pickup truck. Barra also kept promising at the APA event that more details about GM’s EVs will come out at next month’s CES show in Las Vegas.

GM “absolutely” controls more of the intellectual property associated with EVs compared with traditional internal combustion engines, Barra said in response to a question.

The executive also said the automaker will be flexible as it deploys new EVs.

“We have a tremendous plan that can be paced,” she said. “We’ll just keep doing it.”

The executive added the company’s EV platform “allows us to go faster. That’s a huge enabler.”

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