General Motors’ top executive Mary Barra believes she has a handle on some things for next year while still awaiting clarity on others as the start of 2023 draws near.
The company’s CEO met with journalists at the Automotive Press Association’s fireside chat in Detroit Thursday. It marked the second year in a row she’s spoken at the event, and she offered an optimistic view of the next 12 months.
Although sales have been tough for the industry this year, expected to come in somewhere around the 14 million-unit range, Barra believes they’ll jump in 2023 to 15 million units, which echoes a similar prediction offered by Toyota’s Executive Vice President of Sales Jack Hollis last week.
“We are seeing strong demand for our vehicles,” Barra said, adding that new vehicle prices are coming down a bit, but they’re still “well ahead of where we were pre-COVID. Incentives remain low.”
She noted the company will take a conservative approach to costs and expenditures due to the uncertainty of the economy. Some of those potential issues are simply extensions of problems currently plaguing the industry, including the global supply chain, inflation and the war in Ukraine.
GM, as well as Ford and Stellantis, are set to enter negotiations with the UAW this year. However, a new era is dawning at the union, led by the election of several new reformer candidates who planning to demand a lot from the automakers.
Complicating the effort is that the election process isn’t done as current president Ray Curry is in a runoff for his job with Shawn Fain. The reform candidates fared well in the wake of the scandal that enveloped the union taking nearly half of the offices they ran for.
They’re going to be looking for higher wages, an end to the tiered wage structure for new employs as well as other concessions. In addition to the talks, GM officials may be facing another union local as the auto company’s electric battery operations are ramping up — and votes by workers to have union representation will take place.
Barra offered positive feelings about the UAW, noting that her father was a tool-and-die maker at a GM plant in Pontiac, Michigan.
“We’re a company that’s worked with unions around the world for many years, so we welcome Ultium having union representation,” Barra said. “We can work together on things like health and safety, quality training. I always say my teeth are straight because my dad worked for General Motors.”
Returning to work
She also took time to discuss the company’s push to bring back its salaried workers into their offices early next year — after more than 18 months of working from home and some pushback from them the first time the company tried to bring them in earlier this fall.
While there is plenty of evidence showing workers are just as productive working home, Barra noted the company is successful when it’s an innovative place and often that comes from proximity.
“It’s an energy and a vibe. A culture needs to be nurished, and you can’t do that if you’re not in person,” Barra said, according to the Detroit Free Press. “There are a whole bunch of other GM workers who went back to work shortly after COVID already. We think we can do better” in person, noting there are 30,000 parts in a vehicle and “you can’t do that on Zoom.”