First woman to lead a major car-maker appointed chief executive of General Motors
Mary Barra, an engineer and mother of two teenagers, became the most powerful woman in the motor industry this week.
And as the top female in such a macho, maledominated world, she will play a key role in shaping the vehicles all drive.
In fact, if you’re driving a Vauxhall – such as the latest Insignia saloon – she’s probably already played that role.
Driving change: The new chief executive of General Motors Mary Barra has played a key role in shaping cars like the latest Insignia saloon
And her historic appointment as the first female chief executive of Vauxhall’s U.S. parent General Motors – the first woman to lead any major car-maker – perhaps signals a sea-change in the culture.
Mary has had a big hand in models in the pipeline such as the next-generation Astra, to be built in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, and on sale from 2015, and the new Corsa, ariving next autumn.
Also planned are replacements for family cars such as the Zafira and Meriva.
The daughter of a Detroit carworker, Mrs Barra is 52 on Christmas Eve and moves into the hot seat in January.
She will be GM’s fifth chief executive in less than five years since its bail-out in 2009, in which the price President Obama extracted for its federal bail-out was the resignation of the then- CEO Rick Wagoner.
Historic: Mary Barra is the first woman to lead any major car-maker
But it’s taken Mrs Barra more than 30 years of hard slog to reach her rarefied level.
She grew up near Pontiac, Michigan, where her father worked on the production line as a die-maker before retiring after 39 years from GM’s now-defunct Pontiac division.
Mrs Barra joined GM, aged 18, in 1980 and has been a ‘lifer’ with the firm, rising steadily, but determinedly, through the ranks over 33 years. She graduated with a bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Kettering University – then known as the General Motors Institute.
She’s worked as a plant manager, executive director of engineering and head of human resources and is currently GM’s executive vice-president for global product development, purchasing and supplies.
One Vauxhall insider noted: ‘As head of global engineering and a member of the Vauxhall-Opel supervisory board, Mary has effectively signed off all recent model programmes.’ One of the most successful, the Insignia was designed and engineered in Europe, but it’s becoming a global car.
With a tweak of a nose-job, it is sold in the U.S. as a Buick Regal and under that name has become a best-seller in China. The insider said: ‘To survive in what is still a macho industry is no mean feat – for any man, never mind a woman. But she’s done it all and knows how it all works.’ She’s also a bit of a fast lady; her favourite motors are the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird.
Lifer: Barra joined GM aged 18 and has risen through the ranks over 33 years
The new Insignia range starts at £16,279 and includes the 170mph VXR SuperSport, which the firm boasts is ‘the UK’s fastest car you can buy under £30,000’.
On-the road prices for the Super- Sport start at £29,749 for the Hatch and £31,049 for the S p o r t s Tourer estate version.
Both feature a six-speed manual gearbox and allwheel- drive, and accelerate from rest to 60mph in around six seconds.
The Insignia range features four new engines including a frugal ultra-low emissions 140 bhp 2.0 CDTi emitting just 99g/km of CO2 and offering average fuel economy of 76.3mpg.
Fancy working in or with the motor industry – or just want to know more about it?
The University of Buckingham Business School is launching a series of intensive short training courses which it hopes will help foster a new generation of industry experts.
The university’s Centre for Automotive Management is running the three-day courses called ‘A Comprehensive Introduction to the Global Automotive Industry’ in a bid to address the global skills shortage.
The programme covers 17 core industry topics and follows a vehicle from design, through development, manufacturing, distribution, retail, after-sales to end of life and recycling.
It has been developed by the business school’s visiting fellows, David Cardle and John Sparrow, both motor industry veterans.
For fees, dates and further details see: buckingham.ac.uk Motoring By ray massey Motori ng Editor
BMW has unveiled its motorsportderived M3 and M4 sports saloons. Their debut is at next month’s Detroit show and they go on sale here in June, starting at £56,175 for the M3 saloon and £56,635 for the M4 coupe.
Though almost identical in engineering terms, BMW has introduced the ‘4 Series’ name for the coupé version of the 3 Series saloon.
Both are powered by a turbocharged 3-litre, 425 bhp six-cylinder engine. And both will accelerate from rest to 0-62mph in 4.3 sec with the standard six-speed manual gearbox or 4.1 sec with the optional sevenspeed M DCT transmission.
I was privy to some joshing over dinner among top Jaguar Land Rover executives as to when exactly their first new high performance, but frugal, engines would roll off the line at their factory being built near Wolverhampton.
‘June or July next year,’ promised chief executive Ralf Speth: ‘No pressure.’
‘Make that the 65th of June, then,’ said his hard-pressed engineering chief.