GM’s Mary Barra predicts consumers will embrace EVs, is optimistic for return to office, union talks

DETROIT — General Motors chair and CEO Mary Barra expects U.S. car buyers will eventually embrace EVs, is optimistic about 2023 contract talks with the UAW and has no plan to vacate the chief executive’s spot anytime soon after nine years leading the nation’s largest automaker.

In her traditional year-end remarks to the Detroit press, Barra said GM remains committed to its transition to electric vehicles, even as in the face of infrastructure and pricing challenges.

“By 2035 we want to have all of our light-duty vehicles be electric,” she said, but stopped short of calling for nationwide adoption of California’s plan to only allow for the sale of electric vehicles starting that year. 

“We don’t want to create further divides of af fordability,” Barra said. “When we say EVs for everyone, we don’t want anyone to be left behind.”

Led by Chevrolet, GM plans to launch all-electric versions of the Equinox, Silverado and Blazer next year, following the Cadillac Lyriq this year and GMC Hummer EV last year.

“They’re fun to drive,” she said, noting her family owns a new Hummer. “They’re great vehicles. You get used to not going to the gas station real quickly.”

Barra touched on a number of hot-button issues in wide-ranging comments, speaking with reporters for nearly an hour at a luncheon in the shadow of GM’s towering headquarters on the Detroit River.

The daughter of a GM factory worker, she’s optimistic about the upcoming UAW talks. The union’s contract with GM, Ford and Stellantis is up for renewal in 2023. “I always say my teeth are straight because my dad worked for General Motors,” she said.

The other controversial issue for GM looming next year is a return to office for most white collar workers, many of whom have been virtual since March 2020. Barra admitted the initial announcement this fall was choppy, but is expecting workers will like the refurbished offices in GM’s Warren Tech Center in Michigan. She also noted factory workers, designers and many other parts of the automaker have returned to in-person work already.

“A vehicle is an integration of 30,000 parts,” she said. “You can’t do that over Zoom. A culture needs to be nourished.”

Less controversially, she’s bullish on a sales rebound next year, predicting the new car sales volume could hit 15 million and expects the chip shortage will ease.

Barra also remains committed to the company’s autonomous taxi division, Cruise, which is running on a small scale in San Francisco — and has lost $1.4 billion through the first three quarters of the year. That stands in contrast to Ford’s plan to shutter its own self-driving unit, Argo AI, which it supported with Volkswagen. Barra called the situations “apples and oranges.”

“I really believe it [autonomous driving] will change the way we move,” she said.

Barra, the first woman to lead a major automaker, also is committed to increasing diversity at GM and in the auto industry. “I view myself as the chief diversity officer,” she said. “When you have different points of view, you make better decisions.”

After nearly nine years in the CEO’s chair, Barra says retirement is not on the horizon. She turns 61 this month and has served longer than her previous three predecessors combined. With another year in the top job, she would be the longest-serving GM chief since Alfred P. Sloan ruled the company from 1923 to 1946. 

“If the board will have me, I couldn’t be more excited … about the next several years,” she said.

Greg Migliore is the editor-in-chief of Autoblog and a member of the jury for the North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year Awards.