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GM's new CEO, on product development (and plastics)

December 10, 2013

General Motors Co.'s incoming CEO Mary Barra made history and headlines on Dec. 10 when the Detroit-based automaker named her to succeed Dan Akerson in January.

While there will be plenty of ink — digital and in newsprint — out there over the next few days on her appointment, we thought we'd mention something from Barra's past that reflects on her thinking regarding plastics.

Barra has plenty of experience in the auto industry, working her way up through the system starting with an engineering degree at what is now Kettering University. Her current post has her overseeing global product development and the global supply chain — a combination that industry watchers IHS termed as an important move for GM.

"In product development terms, keeping purchasing and product development under a single manager can help ensure purchasing decisions are biased as best for the product," it said.

In one case, noted by PN's sister newspaper Automotive News, Barra found a way to reduce costs without affecting customer satisfaction by redesigning knee bolster air bags that could be used in multiple models without having to design different instrument panels for each model.

"Why can't it be common for the globe?" Barra said of conversations she's had with engineers. "Some components and subsystems depend on the size of the vehicle, the performance you're looking for. But if you start with questioning, 'Why can't I have one solution?' then you get engineering thinking completely differently."

For more coverage of Barra's appointment, see AutoNews.com.