New General Motors CEO Mary Barra starts reign with launch of pickup

Ms Mary Barra, General Motors Senior Vice President of Global Product Development and GM CEO-elect, introduces the all-new 2015 GMC Canyon midsize truck at its world debut on the eve of the 2014 North American International Auto Show on Jan 12, 2014
Ms Mary Barra, General Motors Senior Vice President of Global Product Development and GM CEO-elect, introduces the all-new 2015 GMC Canyon midsize truck at its world debut on the eve of the 2014 North American International Auto Show on Jan 12, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. Ms Barra, the first woman ever chosen to lead a major car company, kicked off her tenure as General Motors chief executive on Sunday with the launch of a distinctly un-feminine vehicle: a new pickup truck. -- PHOTO: AFP

DETROIT (AFP) - Ms Mary Barra, the first woman ever chosen to lead a major car company, kicked off her tenure as General Motors chief executive on Sunday with the launch of a distinctly un-feminine vehicle: a new pickup truck.

Ms Barra, named last month to lead the world's second largest auto maker, doesn't officially take charge until Thursday.

But she was already in the driver's seat on Sunday as GM introduced two new truck models for the annual Detroit auto show.

And she made clear that under her the United States giant's focus will be car design and consumer needs, and not what the accountants of the company - which nearly went under in 2008 - think is best.

"In this business everything starts and ends with great products. At today's GM, our products are the result of putting the customer at the centre of everything we do.

"That has fostered a bold new culture at our company, a culture that promotes innovation and encourages risk taking."

On Dec 10, GM stunned the automotive world with the announcement that Ms Barra would replace Mr Dan Akerson as CEO when he steps down on Jan 15.

Mr Akerson, 65, was expected to retire sometime this year, but moved up the date to care for his wife, who is suffering from an advanced stage of cancer, the company said.

Though a surprise to many, few questioned Ms Barra's ability to take over the Detroit behemoth.

Mr Barra, 52, has worked at GM for 33 years, rising through a series of manufacturing, engineering and senior-staff positions.

She was also credited with helping turn the company around through post-2008 bankruptcy reorganisation, as executive vice president for global product development, purchasing and supply chain.

She "was picked for her talent, not her gender," Mr Akerson said at the time.

"I am honoured to stand up here tonight and humbled to lead the global GM team," she said on Sunday.

She took the stage with Mr Mark Reuss, another veteran GM executive considered for the top job and who now will succeed Ms Barra in the position she vacates.

The two stressed their mutual respect. She called Mr Reuss "the best car guy, and truck guy, in the business". Mr Reuss retorted, calling her "my good friend, my new boss, and GM's CEO".

"She's doing great ... our chemistry is great," he added later.

In impromptu comments after the launch, Ms Barra said she hoped her career path can inspire others, according to media reports.

"With my technical background - I'm an electrical engineer - I can motivate young women or young men to pursue a career in science," she said.

Her move into the CEO's shoes is not without some fire-dousing already. On Friday GM announced the recall of 370,000 trucks for risk of fire.

GM tied the problem, which has caused eight fires but no injuries, to faulty software in the trucks' electronics.

Mr Reuss said the company was surprised by the problem but is moving quickly to fix it by reprogramming the software.