DETROIT — General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra is wrapping up an active year for the largest US-based automaker in a low-key way.
For example, GM (Detroit) this year shed its European-based Opel and Vauxhall brands to PSA Group (Paris). The European unit had generated losses for almost 20 years. But for GM, size was part of its DNA. Being GM meant being big. Being big meant you didn’t get out of a market such as Europe.
Yet, Barra pulled the plug. GM absorbed $5.4 billion in costs associated with the deal in its third-quarter results.
Barra spoke about the transaction at a Dec. 11 Automotive Press Association meeting in Detroit. She commented on that and other major issues in a matter-of-fact way.
“We are not the company that plants a flag everywhere,” Barra said. “We have to be good stewards of our owners’ capital. We need to generate an appropriate return.”
GM is still a big company. However, it was humbled when it revamped in a US government-backed bankruptcy in 2009. The company shed brands, including Pontiac and Saturn. The administration of President Barack Obama forced then-CEO Rick Wagoner to resign.
Barra took over as CEO of the slimmed down and revamped company in January 2014. Much of her first year dealt with a massive recall for deficient ignition switches. It was a problem GM had known about for years and was linked to 124 deaths.
More recently, Barra and GM have dived into self-driving vehicles. The automaker said last month at an investor presentation it plans to deploy autonomous vehicles commercially sometime in 2019.
“It was probably in ’15 that we really committed ourselves” to autonomous vehicles, Barra said this week. “Speed is critical.”
Indeed, tech companies such as Google are working to develop self-driving cars. The race to develop The Next Big Thing in Cars is not restricted to automakers.
The CEO also is navigating potential political pressures. President Trump wants to drastically revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement and has said the accord could end without big changes. The auto industry has used NAFTA to turn Mexico into a major base of operations.
Barra was careful with her words.
“We agree NAFTA should be modernized,” the CEO said. At the same time, she added, changes should “not have unintended consequences.”