GM CEO Barra defends the company's pickup production despite its EV push
In a nearly hour-long interview on the Freakonomics Radio podcast, General Motors CEO Mary Barra talks about the automaker's electric vehicle strategy and President Donald Trump, among many other topics.
One of the main subjects is GM's aggressive push to bring electric vehicles to market faster than it anticipated.
But Stephen Dubner, host of Freakonomics Radio, pointed out that despite GM's announcement last month that it will bring 30 EVs to market by 2025, up from its initial target to bring 20 EVs to market by 2023, it is at the same time scaling up production of the profitable full-size internal combustion engine pickups and large SUVs.
Investing isn't complicated: Here's how I started with $100.
Changing careers during COVID-19: Here's how one millennial went from violist to medical technician
"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," 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 has been in the news for announcing last week that GM would withdraw from Trump's legal battle against California over vehicle emissions standards.
Dubner asked Barra about her time as an original member of Trump's business forum early in his administration, noting, "You quit, following his response to the Charlottesville protests. What was your relationship with him like after that?"
Dubner is referring to the August 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned deadly when a 20-year-old Ohio man drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and leaving 19 others injured, five critically.
"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.
Last week, Barra said GM will no longer back the president's effort to stop California from setting its own emissions rules and she pulled GM from its support of preemption litigation between California, the Trump administration and other nongovernment groups.
Barra cited the alignment of GM's electric vehicle goals with President-elect Joe Biden's endorsement of EVs as the reason to withdraw from the litigation. But an editorial in Sunday's Sacramento Bee criticized GM for backing Trump's war against the state in the first place.
"Now that Biden has triumphed, GM wants to get back on the right side of policy — and history," the editorial said. "If Trump hadn’t lost the election, however, there’s no doubt that GM would still be aiding and abetting his attack on California, climate action and the future of the planet. California consumers should remember this when deciding which brand of car to purchase. If you wouldn’t drive a car with a Trump 2020 sticker on the bumper, why would you buy a Buick, a Cadillac, a Chevy or a GMC?"
The entire interview with Barra can be heard on Freakonomics Radio, which is on all podcast platforms as well as at: https://freakonomics.com.
Contact Jamie L. LaReau: 313-222-2149 or @jlareauan. Read more on General Motors and sign up for our autos newsletter. Become a subscriber.