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General Motors names Mary Barra to head global product development

Thu, 20 Jan 2011

General Motors named Mary Barra head of global product development on Thursday, succeeding Tom Stephens, who was named global chief technology officer of the automaker on Wednesday.

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 on Feb. 1 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.

GM'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.

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 re-enter the minivan market and offer a flagship Cadillac sedan.

Barra joined GM in 1980 as a General Motors Institute (Kettering University) co-op student at the automaker's Pontiac Motor Division. She is a graduate of GMI with a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering. In 1990 she graduated with an MBA in business administration from Stanford University.

By David Phillips- Automotive News