DETROIT – General Motors CEO Mary Barra says she expects “modest” market-share gains in the U.S. and globally, and the automaker will not employ a week-to-week or month-to-month strategy to move the sales needle.
“We’re looking for modest share growth,” Barra tells journalists in her first formal meeting with the media at GM’s world headquarters here.
Speaking directly to the U.S., the automaker’s most profitable region, Barra says a share gain is something GM’s executive team looks forward to every year. “But you’ve got to be balanced. We’re also going to protect the value and not make a week or month’s decisions based on (share).”
While GM’s turnaround from its 2009 bankruptcy has been remarkable, currently riding a string of 15 consecutive quarterly profit reports, the automaker’s U.S. market share has been relatively flat. Last year, GM grabbed 17.94% of the market, down slightly from 17.97% in 2012.
Prior to its bankruptcy, the automaker controlled upwards of 23.6% of U.S. light-vehicle sales.
But the go-to-market strategy since then has been profitable sales over volume and producing to consumer demand levels rather than pushing product into the market and discounting to move sales. Leaders at the old GM often bragged of “moving the market” from month to month with generous incentives.
The automaker passed a key test last month, when it watched rivals build large pickup inventory heading into December for a year-end push but refused to match discounts and saw its year-over-year market share dwindle to 34.7% from 40.5% despite selling an all-new truck. Ford's share, for example, rose to 39.9% from 36.4% year-ago.
“There’s good tension to do the right thing for the business in the long term,” Barra says.
“We’re in it for the long term,” she adds. “I believe in the strength of product, and we’re looking at it over a longer horizon than a week or a month. We’ve demonstrated our discipline. It can be a very slippery slope on the way down.”
There will be no “right or left turn,” she says, as the automaker will stick with the current game plan. “If I had to say it in one word, it is ‘accelerate.’”
Barra wants to speed up the groundwork laid by her predecessor, Dan Akerson. From a global perspective, that means uniting regions and brands under newly appointed GM President Dan Ammann by sharing best practices.
Barra cites a “very creative” go-to-market strategy in South America last year that the automaker shared with other global regions. “It’s facilitating that sharing that might not have happened in the past because everyone is busy with their day job.
“When I talk about accelerating, it’s more about accelerating business results by quickly sharing the best ideas,” she says. “We have to respect the differences in the markets we have across the globe, but there is also a lot of similarities.”
Barra, who spoke a day after meeting with the automaker’s 300 top global executives for the first time, downplays the buzz surrounding her appointment as the first female CEO of a major auto company.
News of Barra breaking the glass ceiling spread quickly across the globe and at the introduction of the GMC Canyon on the eve of last week’s North American International Auto Show she faced a crush of reporters never witnessed before.
Now, scrutiny has turned to her compensation package, which includes a base salary short of that of her male predecessor but is loaded with long-term incentives.
“There has been a lot of (news) coverage,” the former global product boss and 33-year GM engineer admits. “But I never approach any assignment as, ‘Oh, I’m a woman.’ My gender never factors into my thinking as I come into the room.”
However, Barra does hope the publicity of her appointment pushes more young people, men and women, into the fields of math and science.
“That’s one of my personal passions,” she says. “When you look at the job situation we have now, not only in this country but around the globe, there are available jobs in the science and technology and math fields, and we have to make sure we get the people with right skills to do that.”
As far as her pay as CEO, Barra says she has full faith in GM’s board of directors and compensation committee to arrive at a thoughtful payment structure.
She will receive a base salary of $1.6 million, plus short-term incentives making her eligible for up to $4.4 million in total compensation pending board approval in April. The pay includes an undisclosed long-term incentive plan. Akerson, who also served as chairman, received a base salary in 2012 of $1.7 million and $9.3 million in stock awards.