Former CEO Dan Akerson announced last month that he was stepping down to care for his ailing wife. Under Akerson, GM made billions in profits and pushed to turn around struggling parts of its business, like Europe.
Barra, a 33-year GM veteran who was global product development chief before Akerson named her CEO, said she and other members of GM's leadership team helped Akerson develop his strategy, including a restructuring in Europe that will cost the automaker $1.1 billion this year. GM still expects to achieve 10-percent pretax profit margins and break even in Europe by the middle of this decade, she said. It also wants to increase annual sales in China to 5 million by next year, up from 3.1 million last year.
Among her priorities is making GM's brand messages clear and consistent worldwide. Cadillac has the potential to be a global luxury brand, for example, and Chevrolet needs to make the case that it provides a lot of value to buyers. The new Chevrolet Corvette a relative bargain with a starting price of $52,000 should help, she said.
Barra said President Dan Ammann will lead a new focus on sharing best practices between GM's regions and quickly implementing them elsewhere. That's something that didn't always happen in the past, she said.
She also plans to go global with a year-old program that sends engineers to dealerships for several weeks to learn what customers want.
Barra kicked off her tenure by meeting last week with GM's top 300 leaders to share her goals and listen to theirs. Barra said she has always had a collaborative leadership style from her earliest days as an engineer at one of GM's plants.
"I've always been focused on winning the hearts and minds of the employee base," she said. "When you're aligned, and when they understand, you're just going to have superior business results."