Q&A With GM's CEO, Mary Barra

The automaker's chief says the company 'will act quickly' to address safety issues

Published: September 2014
GM CEO Mary Barra

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Since Mary Barra took over as General Motors' chief in January—the first female CEO of a major global auto manufacturer—she has been in the hot seat. So far in 2014, GM, America’s largest car company, has recalled 29 million cars and trucks. Undaunted, Barra agreed to answer questions sent in by readers of Consumer Reports. Of the many thoughtful queries we received, a slimmed-down list was sent to Barra. Her answers are below.

Q. When will GM bring back more U.S. manufacturing? I buy only GM, but I’m considering buying Toyota trucks because they are built in Texas.—Michael Gonzalez, Arlington, Texas

A. GM has 40 U.S. manufacturing plants in 10 states (including 12 assembly plants), and we have invested almost $11 billion in them since June 2009. We’re also a bigger part of the Texas landscape than you may know: Today, 4,500 people work at our Arlington plant, building our all-new generation of full-sized SUVs. Also, Fort Worth is the home of GM Financial, which offers loans and other financial products to customers around the world.

Q. I have been driving a Chevy Volt for two years now, and it is the greatest car I’ve ever owned. Whenever I tell someone what it can do, they are stunned. Most people still think it is just an electric car and that it stops after 40 miles. What is its future?—Shawn Tempesta, Las Vegas

A. We engineered the Chevrolet Volt to be a moon shot: a vehicle that would allow most people to complete their daily driving in full electric mode while eliminating range anxiety on longer trips. On average, Volt drivers go more than 970 miles and more than a month between fill-ups. In January we’ll have more news to share about the next-generation Volt—I think you and your friends will be even more impressed.

Q. I grew up thinking Cadillacs were the standard for luxury. I’ve driven most of today’s models, and I feel like I’m driving rebadged Chevys: They aren’t any quieter and don’t ride any better than less costly cars. How can you make Cadillac an elegant luxury brand that consumers will aspire to own?—Bill Shoffner, Burlington, N.C.

A. Cadillac did set the standard for luxury cars for decades; then, for a time, they were good but not always great, especially compared with some of the cars coming out of Germany. Some were also too similar to Chevrolets, as you point out. But we’ve been investing billions of dollars (literally) in performance, safety, and technology to make Cadillac a true luxury leader. The new CTS, for example, is built on weight-optimized, rear-wheel-drive architecture; it’s the lightest car in its segment, making it more agile and fun to drive than top competitors. The sales and service experiences also must measure up: Cadillac dealers, with GM help, have invested millions in facilities both beautiful and functional.

Q. Of the 25 cars I have owned, all but three have been GM, Ford, or Chrysler. Currently I have a U.S.-built Korean car. Why should I choose a GM car, when others have much longer warranties and more standard equipment?—Kurt Hunter, Circleville, Ohio

A. We’re laser-focused on building great cars and delivering an exceptional ownership experience: Consumer Reports has singled out the Buick Regal; the Cadillac ATS; and the Chevrolet Corvette, Impala, and Silverado for impressive fit and finish, competitive feature sets, and strong performance. In terms of service, Cadillac earned the highest rank among 12 eligible luxury brands in the J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Customer Service Index, and Buick ranked highest among 19 mass-market brands. Every GM brand [in that study] scored better than Hyundai and Kia.

Q. What are you going to do to win back consumer confidence?—Fred Henney, Centreville, Va.

A. We’re not going to be satisfied with solving our current problems: Our total focus has to be on making GM the best auto company for customers in safety, quality, reliability, and value. I see our current recall activities as examples of doing the right thing for our customers. If we identify an issue that could possibly affect your safety, we will act quickly. Yes, we’ve recalled large volumes of past models—many of which we no longer build—but we’ve also conducted recalls involving fewer than 100 vehicles, which demonstrates how quickly we’re reacting to potential issues.

Costco's CEO, W. Craig Jelinek

We want your CEO choices

Tell us which chief executive—or company—you want to hear from at q-and-a@cr.consumer.org. And stay tuned for Costco's chief, W. Craig ­Jelinek (shown), who answers your questions next.



Editor's Note:

This artlcle also appeared in the November 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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