GM CEO Mary Barra says company is ready to give up politeness image

Chief Executive Mary Barra has made her latest appearance before the Detroit Economic Club, a welcomed change of scenery from the tensioned US congress hearings she had to endure lately.

The No. 1 US automaker has been hit by a huge recall crisis, numerous federal investigations, a $35 million fine from the NHTSA, fired more than a dozen employees completely changed its safety procedures and took $2.7 billion in related charges. Above all that, its sales have gone up just 2% during the first nine months of the year, failing to bridge the gap between its third position and the one-two tandem – Toyota and Volkswagen. Now, in front of the attendance at the friendly Detroit Economic Club, Barra declared that “the days of GM being a competent but polite competitor are over.”

“I really want to win,” she said. “We have work to do. It’s going to take some time. We rolled out our 52 priorities, our purpose and our goals. We have done that in a way that every person at General Motors, whatever roll they play, understands how they fit in.”

In front of the leaders of Detroit’s business community, she said she wasn’t in the office to put a “smiling” face on the automaker that had to be bailed out of bankruptcy by the taxpayer’s money. She added that the ignition switch recall crises made her “walk on fire” and she is intent on further shaking up the carmaker. With many major changes coming to the way the company conducts business, she also said that on the short-term one of the main objectives is to reach a “zero defect culture.”