CEO Mary Barra wants people to think of GM as a tech company

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News
Mary Barra, CEO and Chairman of General Motors speaks with David Bradley, Chairman of Atlantic Media on the subject 'The Road Ahead.'

Detroit — General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra wants people to think of the 110-year-old automaker as a technology company by the time she retires.

"There's still a story to be told," Barra said Monday at the CityLab Detroit forum of leaders from across the country. "But because of what happened to General Motors late last decade, a lot of people lost confidence in us, so we have to work doubly hard to earn that respect and trust back that we can be a company that not only innovates and grows, but leads."

Nine years after GM filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the first female CEO of an auto company faces new challenges as the carmaker braves new competitors, plateauing U.S. auto sales and an uncertain future that experts think will include a slew of electric and autonomous vehicles.

GM plans to launch its first fleet of autonomous vehicles without a steering wheel, brake pedal or accelerator sometime in 2019. That's the first stage for GM's plan for autonomous vehicles, Barra said. Within the next decade, she said, those cars should pop up in "many" cities across the globe, as GM moves to grow the number of those vehicles in operation.

The vehicles will be deployed in one controlled environment at first, likely as a ride-hailing service, in the U.S. The company is working with Cruise Automation, a San Francisco-based technology company GM acquired, to develop those vehicles.

"The technology's the hardest piece," Barra said. "Once we establish that, and we're on a path to do that next year, then it just becomes how fast we can roll that out."

That roll-out relies on a number of factors both within GM and outside of the company. GM's Cruise autonomous vehicle is built on the company's electric vehicle platform, and Barra said Monday the company believes all autonomous vehicles should be electric vehicles.

That means there has to be a robust charging infrastructure in place in the cities in which these vehicles operate, Barra said. The company also has internal technology hurdles to get over, like how the vehicles will "see" through inclement weather, among other industry-wide problems pertaining to autonomous vehicles.

Barra also stressed the importance of electric vehicles to her plan for GM. The automaker last week proposed a national requirement to ensure that zero-emission cars compose 25 percent of automaker fleets by 2030.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau