Mary Barra Says GM's Electric Cars Aren't 'Window Dressing'

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GM CEO Mary Barra gave an interesting interview, Japan is just about ready to move on from ICE cars and Rimac. All that and more in The Morning Shift for December 3, 2020.


1st Gear: Mary Barra Is Shapeshifting

GM CEO Mary Barra was down with the Trump administration, until she wasn’t. Last week, Barra and GM finally jumped ship on Trump for good, if for no other reason than they can see which way the wind is blowing in the wake of Joe Biden’s win. Yesterday, Freakonomics Radio released its interview with Barra, challenging her on more than a few things.

Via the Detroit Free Press, here are some of the more interesting responses:

“The bestselling GM vehicle is the Chevy Silverado. If one is an environmentalist, EVs may just look like window dressing. Persuade me they’re not,” [Freakanomics host Stephen Dubner] said.

“The fact that we announced … that we’ll have 30 vehicles by 2025, two-thirds of them in the United States, and a goal to have over a million, it’s not window dressing,” Barra said. “The way I look at it is, our strong truck business is funding our ability to go fast in EVs. I would also say every single truck, every time we put a new generation out, it’s more fuel-efficient. The faster General Motors solves some of consumers’ concerns or challenges as it relates to EVs, the faster that transition will happen.”

Barra had this to say about her participation with the Trump administration:

“I think what we looked at is, you know, when I was asked to serve, I think it’s always important to have a voice and have — you know, have a voice in decisions that are being made,” Barra said, according to a transcript of the show provided to the Free Press. “I think when, you know, that group decided — it wasn’t productive because it had just taken on a tone that frankly wasn’t allowing it to be an effective place to provide input.”

Dubner pushed on, asking Barra, from a business perspective, “especially considering how much business General Motors does in China, would you have preferred to see Trump serve a second term?”

“Oh, you know what, we’re open to work with anybody. We’re — you know, so I think — what I think of that is immaterial. It’s the American people who have spoken,” Barra said.


It seems pretty unlikely that Barra had a genuine preference about who won in November, though this is a woman who was once rumored to be a vice presidential candidate for Hillary Clinton. Instead, she seems to be doing the job of a shapeshifter, which might explain her longevity in the top job at GM.

2nd Gear: Japan Is The Latest To Be Close To Calling It On Gas-Burning Cars

This is all picking up speed quicker than I suspected it would, but now Japan is the latest to put plans in motion to ban cars that aren’t hybrid or electric in the next couple decades. We’re going to wake up one day and very suddenly it will be an EV world.


From Bloomberg:

All new vehicles sold in Japan by the mid-2030s will be hybrid or electric as the government begins to unveil concrete steps for reaching its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050, broadcaster NHK said.

Japan’s economy ministry is targeting “100% electrification” over approximately 15 years, a move that would gradually bump gasoline-engine cars out of the new car market, NHK reported, citing unidentified sources.

A new vehicle market consisting of only hybrid and electric automobiles would be a significant shift, given they only make up about 29% of Japan’s 5.2 million new motor vehicle registrations, according to Japan’s Automobile Manufacturers Association. While Toyota Motor Corp. popularized hybrid vehicles with the Prius and the country’s automakers are among the world’s top producers in the segment, the domestic market for electrified vehicles has plateaued in recent years. Last year, both plug-in hybrid and EV registrations fell year-on-year, JAMA data show.


3rd Gear: Daimler Will Have A New Chairman

He of course it is a he is Bernd Pischetsrieder, who used to be CEO of BMW and of Volkswagen.


From Automotive News:

Pischetsrieder, 72, will succeed long-term Chairman Manfred Bischoff after Daimler’s annual meeting on March 31.

Pischetsrieder will become chairman as the Mercedes-Benz owner navigates through a seismic industry transformation. “Bernd Pischetsrieder is one of the most internationally recognized automotive experts,” Bischoff said in a statement on Thursday. “His expertise and wealth of experience are of outstanding importance for Daimler.”

Pischetsrieder’s nomination comes after former Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche withdrew his candidacy for the job amid opposition from some shareholders unhappy about the automaker’s results during his tenure.

Pischetsrieder began his career at BMW in his home city of Munich in 1973 as a production planning engineer. He was BMW CEO from 1993 to 2000. Under his leadership BMW bought Rover Group from British Aerospace in 1994. After failing to turn around the UK’s biggest automaker, BMW sold Rover Group in 2000 to the Phoenix consortium.


4th Gear: A Bit Of EV Reason

Rimac has been one of the more clear-eyed supercar makers for a while now, plodding forward with its electric supercars while generally casting side-eye at some of its competitors. Lately, lots of EV startups have merged with special purchase acquisition companies (SPACs) to go public and rake in money from investors, all basically riding on the coattails of Tesla, but Rimac hasn’t.


In fact, Rimac founder Mate Rimac said in a new interview that the trend is bad, and that Rimac would not be engaging in that particular shortcut.

From Reuters:

“You can get so much money now for companies that do not have a product. Personally I am scared a little bit,” Rimac told the Financial Times Future of the Car summit on Thursday.

“When we go public, I want to show the numbers, to go public on reality, and not on hype,” Rimac said.

“I hope that these SPACs will be successful. A lot of them won’t. I hope it won’t hurt the industry too much.”


Refreshing to hear an EV founder speak in terms that make sense to laypeople, a bit depressing that the words are simply, “I want to go public on reality.”

5th Gear: Sales Were Down In November But That’s Not Too Much Cause For Alarm

Sales were down roughly 10 percent to 20 percent across the board in November, though automakers largely chalked that up to having only 23 selling days. We saw a bit of a preview of this a couple of days ago, now we have some real numbers.


Via Automotive News:

American Honda and Ford dropped more then 20 percent. Mazda, Subaru, and Hyundai Motor America all fell more than 10 percent. Kia was down 5 percent. Toyota Motor North America, meanwhile, dipped just 1 percent. That performance could be considered a win given there were three fewer selling days last month than in November 2019. Despite that quirk, Sweden’s Volvo managed a 20 percent increase.

Overall light-vehicle sales in November were projected to fall 12 percent, according to TrueCar and ALG. Ford Motor, Fiat Chrysler, American Honda, Nissan Motor, BMW Group, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen Group were expected to all record sales declines of 15 percent or more.


The annualized rate in November was just shy of 16 million, which is a little less than the 17 million number that 2020 was expected to hit before ... everything happened. Nature is somewhat healing, etc.

Reverse: RIP AMC Pacer


Neutral: How Are You?

The pandemic has sent me into a sort of hibernation — it’s hard to engage with the world when everything feels tentative at best. This has meant lots of weekend drives to grocery stores for no good reason. Lots of Link’s Awakening. Lots of plotting out future trips for when it’s safe again.



1st Gear: I think we can cut Mary Barra some slack here. Her job is to advocate for what’s good for GM, period. She is going to saddle up with whoever is in office out of sheer pragmatism.

Working with the Trump administration to influence policy favorable to GM doesn’t mean GM is in lock step with everything the administration stands for. It was a practical move, just as much as working with the incoming Biden administration is a practical move.