General Motors CEO Mary Barra took the podium -- and some friendly fire -- at the NADA- and J.D. Power & Associates-sponsored auto forum in New York Tuesday to talk about the company and the recall. But she was fairly defensive during the Q&A portion and wouldn't comment on who else might be let go or put on some sort of paid leave, as were two engineers last week.
She started by touting GM's vehicle achievements this year. Then she got down to the recall. She said that the company will create a new global product integrity organization under Mark Reuss, EVP of global product, and the new global vehicle safety chief, Jeff Boyer. She said, emphatically, that the organization is not a response to the kind of breakdowns that led to the recall.
"This new organization will be built on formula and actions to lead industry when it comes to vehicle dynamics," she said. "Our goal is to ensure the highest safety of execution across every vehicle we put in the market."
She said the new division will be forward-focused, not involved in the recall. "If you go back a handful of years, we had some very good [ones] and some, as industry experts said, weren't the best. If you look now, car after GM car, we are being recognized." She said that the safety organization is really about keeping up with new technology.
"Mark Reuss looked at the situation and how technically sophisticated vehicles are. It makes sense to have this organization dedicated to functional safety as it gets more complicated. The product integrity team’s many parts are dedicated to future product.
Although she was in front of a "friendly audience," Barra was just as cagey as she had been on Capitol Hill, probably because there was a forest of cameras lining the back wall at the Grand Hyatt on 42nd Street.
Automotive News publisher Jason Stein asked her whether, with the sturm und drang of the recall, she could focus on what she wants to do as the CEO since the minute she took the corner office, the hammer dropped. "We are executing on strategy. In fact, we had a strategy team meeting this morning." Stein asked her when she might find herself clear of the foul weather. "There are checkpoints. When every vehicle has been repaired is one. When every customer feels good about the service and vehicle. That, to me, is the ultimate measure."
Barra was fairly vague about the departure of the company's PR chief yesterday, saying he left to pursue other interests, and that it had nothing to do with the recall.
She also trumpeted the virtues of the company's dealers, who took top honors in the just-released J.D. Power & Associates dealership service and experience rankings. "I have to say I am so proud of the way our dealers, employees and suppliers have come together. In these situations, you find moments of truth. This is an opportunity to demonstrate our core values."
And Barra said that the company is in culture change mode. "In last five years, we have made many steps to change the culture. Our focus is no longer on survival but quality, safety and doing what's right for the customer. A prime focus right now for me is taking care of customers who have been impacted and getting their cars fixed as soon as possible."