General Motors CEO Mary Barra recently turned to the past to define the present.
Barra crafted the company’s statement of purpose, which GM introduced to all employees in January.
When composing the statement, Barra said she struggled at first to find the right words, only to find inspiration from GM’s 100-year-old articles of incorporation.
Barra, who spoke on Axios’ What’s Next Summit on Tuesday, also touched on when GM will start selling personal self-driving cars. Cruise, of which GM is a majority owner, is currently testing self-driving cars for a taxi-like fleet in San Francisco.
Finding GM’s purpose
Every company needs to understand why they exist, Barra said.
“Our purpose at General Motors is to pioneer the innovations that move and connect people to what matters,” she said.
Barra said she hopes that statement will guide employees’ decision making every day and that it will attract new talent who want to work for a company that is doing something of value to society.
But Barra admitted while she was working on writing the purpose, she got stuck.
“It’s hard to pick the words and you want it to be something everyone can remember to help guide them every day,” Barra said. “And we were kind of stuck.”
So she went to another CEO — someone she did not name but for whom she has “tremendous respect” — and “he said, ‘look into your past.’
“We actually got out the Articles of Incorporation for General Motors and it was so inspiring because they talked about pioneering,” Barra said.
That inspired her to use that word in the purpose statement.
“They talked about electric vehicles over 100 years ago,” Barra said. “That really was instrumental in us defining our purpose and finding that connection.”
Costly self-driving cars
GM’s plans for electric vehicles and self-driving vehicles by mid-decade are aggressive.
Barra has said GM will produce and sell the most EVs among all automakers starting in 2025. To that end, the automaker announced Tuesday that it is expanding its partnership with Honda to codevelop a series of new and “affordable” EVs to deliver to market in 2027.
In the autonomous vehicle space, Barra said Cruise has a fleet of self-driving cars in the “validation” process.
The Cruise Origin — the self-driving car that will be built at Factory ZERO, which straddles the Detroit-Hamtramck border — will be ready to put on the street in January 2023, she said.
Those vehicles will be a robo taxi service. Barra said GM plans to also have by mid-decade personal autonomous vehicles “where the vehicle is responsible for the operation.” But she said they will be expensive.
“That technology is expensive. We already have a lot of work going on at Cruise to get the cost of the technology down,” Barra said. “So as the capability of the vehicle goes up, the cost will come down. But it will start as a relatively higher-priced vehicle until we get the technology down.”