Barra says automaker is more confident in ability to adapt
Mass-producing ventilators not only gave GM the opportunity to pitch in to fight COVID-19 in the early stages of the pandemic, it changed the company culture, CEO Mary Barra said.
“Doing the ventilator project was kind of a game-changer from a General Motors perspective, from a culture-change perspective,” Barra told the Automotive Press Association of Detroit on Thursday.
GM scaled the project up within a month, much faster than executives previously thought a project like that could get off the ground. This allowed for the production of 30,000 ventilators in 150 days when previously Ventec Life Systems, the partner in the project, turned out 250 per month.
GM converted an electronics factory in Indiana to a ventilator plant in the spring of 2020 and put hundreds of workers on the project.
“They would have looked at me like I was crazy,” Barra said of her management team had she proposed something like that prior to the pandemic emergency. Now, she said, the automaker knows it can adjust on the fly and do things in weeks or months that used to take years.
This flexibility will help in the changeover to an all-electric fleet, with GM aiming to produce electric cars and trucks only by 2035 and to have its U.S. facilities by 100% renewable energy by 2030 (2035 for global facilities). GM has plans for four new battery plants in the U.S., with the locations of two (in Ohio and Tennessee) already announced. Barra hinted GM’s home state of Michigan could get one as well.
“In the not-too-distant future, we’ll be able to answer that question,” she said.
She also took issue with GM’s stock price and perception compared to smaller manufacturers such as Tesla and Rivian when it comes to revolutionizing the auto industry with EVs.
“Sometimes the iconic, traditional company, even though they’re innovating quickly, gets looked at with a different lens,” Barra said.