GM CEO: NYC move to ‘accelerate’ Cadillac progress

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau
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New York — General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra said the move of the Detroit automaker’s Cadillac brand headquarters to New York will help accelerate progress at the luxury brand.

“When you look at how important Cadillac is, we need to have that team dedicated — thinking Cadillac day in and day out,” Barra told reporters after appearing on a panel at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting here. “When you think about New York, it’s the perfect place to be. It’s where a lot of luxury is defined. It’s trend-setting — so I think it’s going to be very, very positive.

Barra said the move will affect “about 100 people that I think are really going to craft the strategy.”

She emphasized that there are still “Cadillac people all over the world” and a lot of functions will remain in the Detroit area. Barra said the New York move is “definitely not about the image of Detroit” because the city is seeing big signs of positive growth.

The move isn’t because BMW and Mercedes-Benz USA are headquartered near New York, she said, but more about the city’s role as a trend-setter.

She said the company has a plan to turn the company around. “We’ve got to build the brand. We’ve got to regain customers’ trust and really have them really understand the premium nature of the vehicle and that it does define luxury. We have work to do.”

“I really think it’s going to really accelerate what we want to accomplish on Cadillac,” Barra said. “We are committed to growing Cadillac globally and I think this is an important step.”

Johan de Nysschen, who joined Cadillac about a month ago from Infiniti Motor Co. Ltd., wants to expand Cadillac into new countries and segments. Barra said there would be some new hires for the new New York Cadillac office and some from Detroit, but said de Nysschen is “empowered” to make hiring decisions.

This week, Ken Feinberg said his independent compensation fund had approved claims for 21 deaths linked to GM’s recall of 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other cars for faulty ignition switches that can accidentally allow the key to turn off the engine and disable power steering and air bags. The overall number of claims has risen to 143 death claims and 532 injury claims, though only 16 injury claims have been approved.

Barra didn’t answer if the new count of claims would force it to up GM’s estimate of costs from $400 million. She said it is still “very early in the process.”

The Justice Department is investigating GM’s handling of the recall. The Securities and Exchange Commission, 45 state attorneys general and Canadian officials are also investigating. GM paid a record-setting $35 million fine to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in May.

Asked how long the Justice Department investigation could last and if that was a hurdle to the company moving past the recall crisis, she said there are “timetables that we don’t control,” but emphasized the company was committed to changing how it operates and not forgetting its recall problems.

Barra appeared at a panel hosted by Chelsea Clinton and billionaire Jack Ma, executive chairman of Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba Group; Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s finance minister and Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. She talked about social responsibility and environmental consciousness by the automaker. She is also getting an award Monday evening at a separate event.

Asked by a reporter if the appearances in New York were a “relaunch” of her public image about nine months after she took over, Barra rejected that. “It’s not about Mary Barra. It’s about General Motors,” Barra said.

Barra is going to be make more appearances in the coming months, including an appearance next month at the Detroit Economic Club and an upcoming forum in California.

She said she’s “more impatient” to make progress and has a “bias for action.”

“I know what the company can be. I know where we’re headed. I feel very good about the future of General Motors.... We’re going to the do the right thing —even if it’s hard,” Barra said.

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