General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra, nearly a decade on the job, on Monday reflected on various challenges this year.

GM absorbed a $1.1 billion hit because of a United Auto Workers strike. Settling that walkout (and reaching a new contract with Unifor, which represents GM workers in Canada) will add about $1.5 billion in North American labor costs next year. The Detroit-based automaker also experienced operational issues at its robotaxi unit and problems with electric vehicle battery production.

“We faced a lot of challenges and we faced them head on,” Barra, 61, said at an Automotive Press Association event in Detroit.

Barra has been CEO of the company since Jan. 15, 2014. Her first year was dominated by recalls of faulty ignition switches, where the problems were known for years but not reported.

More recently, Barra has been coping with the switch to EVs and the development of self-driving vehicles.

Under Barra, GM set a public goal of going all electric by 2035. Except, in 2023, GM hasn’t gotten its Ultium EV battery output to full speed. The automaker also has said it’s slowing EV production because of slower-than-expected consumer demand.

Barra said Monday that GM’s basic strategy is sound.

“We’re in the early days,” she said. “We’re still on the first lap. The customer is rational. This is really an expensive purchase for them…We’re still going to be continuing to grow. We’re not ceding any ground.”

Much of the push for EVs has come from regulators in countries worldwide, who are seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Barra was asked what happens if President Joe Biden fails to win re-election in 2024.

The GM chief said EVs can win over consumers. “We want to be customer driven, not regulatory driven,” she said. “We can’t change every four years depending on what’s happens in (Washington) D.C. We have to be super, super focused on the customer and what the customer wants.”

The Cruise robotaxi subsidiary shut down operations after accidents involving its driverless taxis in San Francisco. California pulled Cruise’s permits to operate in the state.

Barra didn’t comment in detail. She said a safety review concerning Cruise will last into the first quarter of 2024.

With this year’s UAW strikes, GM, Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis dealt with more aggressive tactics by the UAW.

Under union President Shawn Fain, the UAW went on strikes against some operations of all three companies. Over time, the UAW walked off the job at additional plants.

The three companies agreed to pay UAW-represented workers raises of 25% over four-and-a-half year and to bring back cost-of-living adjustments.

Barra said GM can work with Fain. “We’re going to continue to engage” with the union, she said. “At GM we’ll certainly be making the effort.”



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