GM CEO-designate Mary Barra starts with a truck – USA TODAY
DETROIT — General Motors’ CEO-designate Mary Barra hosted her first giant product introduction here Sunday night, unveiling the 2015 GMC Canyon midsize pickup with a boast that it’s so impressive, it’ll make the minuscule small-truck market grow.
The Canyon, which goes on sale later this year with corporate companion Chevrolet Colorado, has “style, refinement and capability,” she said, so will appeal to shoppers who didn’t even realize they wanted such a vehicle.
GM says that, contrary to consensus, midsize-truck buyers have incomes similar to big-truck buyers, and many will prefer the smaller models because they’re easier to park, use less fuel, will be priced lower and can carry close to as much as full-size models.
The midsize — formerly compact — pickup segment accounted for just 240,000 sales all of last year, about the capacity of an auto plant running two shifts. Two-thirds of those sales went to the Toyota Tacoma, so the Canyon’s and Colorado’s ability to expand the demand for midsize pickups is key to their success.
It’s also the only way those two won’t swipe sales from the recently redesigned, full-size GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Colorado, which are significant moneymakers for GM.
Barra, selected last month to replace CEO Dan Akerson on Jan. 20, said the Canyon and Colorado amount to the beginning of a GM “product onslaught.”
She was on stage at the Russell Industrial Center here only as long as it took to make more-or-less expected comments about the new truck and hand the stage over to Mark Reuss, who replaces her as GM’s global product chief.
The industrial center was designed by Albert Kahn and originally built auto bodies. It now provides studios and lofts for artists and space for special events.
The real action for Barra came when she left the stage and was mobbed by reporters and camera operators in what was one of the most furious “scrums” at an auto press conference in a long time. The impromptu session was cacophonous, and she provided what seemed like scripted answers to a variety of questions and made no comments on substantive issues, such as whether GM plans to resume paying dividends to its stockholders.
Barra is in the spotlight because she’s the first woman named to run a big auto company. GM’s Detroit-based rivals Ford Motor and Chrysler Group have ranking female executives, but none who are a nod by the board of directors away from the corner office.
Barra joined GM as an intern in 1980 and has worked for the automaker her whole career. Akerson said when she took the global product chief’s job, she stepped into a confused nightmare, and put it right better and faster than expected.