There was a bit of drama but no ducking questions at the 2018 General Motors annual meeting in Detroit where Chairman and CEO Mary Barra calmly updated shareholders on the company’s business.
This includes a commitment to building cars. In a briefing ahead of the meeting, Barra told Motor Trend that as a global company, GM is not following crosstown rivals Ford and Fiat Chrysler in systematically pulling out of car segments.
“Although we are seeing a shift in the United States and in other markets, there still is a very big car market globally,” Barra said. “We’re well positioned because we reinvested in the 2015-2016 time frame in both compact and midsize vehicles so we have a very strong platform that we can continue to provide customers with what they want for a very long period of time.” She later referenced investment in the Chevy Cruze and Malibu as key to keeping them relevant.
Globally the automaker’s GEM (Global Emerging Markets) architecture is bringing new vehicles and technology to emerging markets, in many cases for the first time, Barra said.
But the real emphasis is on electric and autonomous vehicles.
GM is increasing production of the Chevrolet Bolt and plans to introduce 20 new all-electric vehicles by 2023 globally. GM continues to advocate for a single national standard for fuel efficiency requirements, wanting to avoid having to meet regulations for California that are more stringent than proposed federal CAFE regulations which the Trump Administration is expected to ease. But either way, GM is committed to an electric-vehicle future and would like to see EV tax credits extended.
The automaker is on pace to launch its self-driving ride-hailing fleet next year. The Cruise AV, which will not have a steering wheel or pedals, will be built at the Orion Assembly plant in Michigan.
Last month, GM announced a partnership with SoftBank which is investing $2.25 billion in GM’s self-driving ride-sharing technology. GM also acquired Strobe last year to bring down the cost of Lidar technology. GM uses Lidar in conjunction with cameras and radar to read the landscape for safe autonomous driving.
Wall Street is recognizing GM’s AV work, Barra said, including the fact the work is all being done under one roof. This work includes the development of the vehicle as well as the technology integration that involves modifying or changing 40 percent of the components to enable autonomous driving. And GM can mass produce the cars at the Orion Assembly Plant.
Ride-sharing was barely a topic of conversation five years ago, but today GM’s Maven ride-sharing service continues to expand and Barra said its vehicles are being driven four times more than an average vehicle.
GM has pulled back from Lyft, the ride-sharing company in which it has a 9 percent stake. Barra said while she has faith in its founders, “right now, though, we have no active projects underway.” After GM invested in Lyft in 2016, Ford announced its own collaboration last year for a fleet of self-driving vehicles by 2021.
On trade and tariffs affecting the auto industry, Barra said there are still a lot of moving pieces and negotiations, which are ongoing. “We need to let negotiations continue and be completed,” she said.
Turning to the business of the annual meeting, a proposal to have an independent chairman was defeated, garnering only 35 percent of votes, meaning Barra will continue to hold the dual titles of chairman and CEO. A similar motion at the recent Tesla annual meeting also failed to remove the chairman title from CEO Elon Musk.
There was a moment of drama as two female protesters starting yelling, “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now.” They were asked to wait for the question period to make their point and when they refused the offer, they were escorted out of the meeting. A number of shareholders did use the question period to decry conditions at GM plants in Colombia, allegations which Barra said have been investigated and found to be untrue.