An engineer, Barra, 49, is the first woman to hold the top product development job at GM.
Since 2009 she has served as vice president of global human resources for GM – a key post as the automaker restructured and emerged from bankruptcy protection.
Barra has also served as head of global manufacturing engineering for GM, manager of the automaker's Detroit Hamtramck assembly plant, and executive director of competitive operations engineering
She will take over GM's product development efforts at a critical time. While sales of GM's four U.S. brands are rebounding sharply, the automaker's lineup, particularly in the U.S. market, faces new challenges and product gaps over the next few years.
“Mary will bring a fresh perspective to the critically important job of developing vehicles that delight global customers,” GM CEO Dan Akerson said in a statement. “Her broad experience in engineering, manufacturing and staff functions, combined with the ability to collaborate and build strong relationships will enhance the company's ability to deliver the products today's consumers demand.”
GM is looking to gain U.S. market share and enter new market segments in growing markets outside the U.S., such as China, India, Brazil and Russia.
The automaker's U.S. product replacement rate will trail the industry this year and is forecast to match competitors in 2012 and 2013, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch's annual “Car Wars” report published in late 2010.
In North America, GM's product development efforts are about a year behind schedule because of financial woes that prompted the automaker to seek a government-funded bailout.
Akerson wants the company to accelerate product development, with a focus on car and truck models that offer enhanced fuel economy and advanced technology.
Earlier this month, at the Automotive News World Congress, he acknowledged that GM will face a shortage of new models this year and in 2012.
To save money, GM delayed the introduction of new full-size pickup trucks and SUVs that are among its most profitable vehicles. It is now racing to bring those models to market sooner.
GM also hasn't formally indicated when the aging CHEVROLET Impala sedan will be replaced, a model that faces competition from the new Ford Taurus and refreshed Dodge Charger.
The automaker is also studying whether to reenter the minivan market and offer a flagship Cadillac sedan.
GM is launching three key models in the U.S. market: a convertible version of the CHEVROLET Camaro, the CHEVROLET Sonic subcompact car, and the Buick Verano, a compact sedan derived from the CHEVROLET Cruze.
Those models are expected to be followed next year by a small Cadillac sedan to be built in Lansing, Mich., and a new small crossover to be marketed by Buick.
A redesigned CHEVROLET Malibu is also expected to be introduced in the next 18 months.
Barra was named one of Automotive News’ 100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry” in 2005, and again in 2010.
SOURCE: Automotive News
John F. Martin) (Gm - AP)
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