Mary Barra, the first woman ever chosen to lead a major car company, began her tenure as General Motors (GM) CEO on Sunday with the launch of a distinctly un-feminine vehicle: a new pickup truck.
Barra, named last month to lead the world’s second-largest automaker, does not officially take charge until Thursday.
Yet she was already in the driver’s seat on Sunday as GM introduced two new truck models for the annual Detroit auto show.
And she made clear that under her the US giant’s focus will be car design and consumer needs, and not what the accountants of the company — which nearly went under in 2008 — think is best.
“At today’s GM, our products are the result of putting the customer at the center of everything we do,” she said.
“That has fostered a bold new culture at our company, a culture that promotes innovation and encourages risk taking,” she added.
On Dec. 10, GM stunned the automotive world with the announcement that the 52-year-old Barra, who has worked at the company for 33 years, would replace Dan Akerson as CEO when he steps down tomorrow.
“I am honored to stand up here tonight and humbled to lead the global GM team,” Barra said on Sunday.
In impromptu comments after the launch, Barra said she hoped her career path can inspire others, according to media reports.
“With my technical background — I’m an electrical engineer — I can motivate young women or young men to pursue a career in science,” she said.
Her move into the CEO’s shoes is not without some fire-dousing already. On Friday last week, GM announced the recall of 370,000 trucks for risk of fire.
GM tied the problem, which has caused eight fires, but no injuries, to faulty software in the trucks’ electronics.
Separately, Ford was yesterday set to unveil a new F-150 with a body made almost entirely out of aluminum. The lighter material shaves as much as 318kg off the 2,268kg truck, a revolutionary change for a vehicle known for its heft and an industry still heavily reliant on steel.
The truck is Ford’s response to small-enterprise owners’ desire for a more fuel-efficient and nimble truck — and stricter government requirements on fuel economy. And it sprang from a challenge by Ford’s CEO to move beyond the traditional design for a full-size pickup.
“You’re either moving ahead and you’re improving and you’re making it more valuable and more useful to the customer or you’re not,” chief executive Alan Mulally told reporters in a recent interview.
Ninety-seven percent of the body of the 2015 F-150 is aluminum, the most extensive use of aluminum ever in a truck.
F-Series trucks have been the US’ bestselling vehicles for the last 32 years. Last year, Ford sold an F-Series every 41 seconds.
Dealers who have seen the new F-150 say they expect to encounter some skepticism, but the change had to be made.
“We’re aggressive, stretching the envelope,” said Sam Pack, owner of four Ford dealerships in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “I think you have to do that. If you don’t, then you get into that predicament of being a ‘me too’ vehicle.”