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Is GM as "vastly different" as Mary Barra claims?

General Motors CEO Mary Barra
flickr user David Pinter

General Motors CEO Mary Barra said Wednesday that, “GM is a vastly different company today than just five years ago,” and then went on to announce profits that were a little better than had been estimated.

But how much does that mean when times are good for all the car makers right now?

In the paper Thursday, Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes wonders if GM is as vastly different as Barra claims.

While it’s easy to say things have changed when the market is good, Howes tells us that if you dig a little deeper, there do appear to be some real and important changes taking place within the company.

“I think it does feel like a different company. There’s a lot more accountability that they’re striving for,” he says.

According to Howes, one of the biggest problems Barra has tackled is the entrenched, uncooperative corporate culture at GM.

“They changed the ‘it’s not my problem’ mythos that was punctuated of kind of the GM nod, of like, someone would ask you to do something and you’d nod and then walk out of the room and never do it, into saying, ‘your problem is my problem,’” Howes says.

He thinks Barra’s effort to create a culture of accountability is, “just as important as what they’re doing in terms of the numbers.”

He adds that GM has shifted from its obsessive pursuit of market share to focus more on generating enough profit to remain competitive in the ever-changing auto market.

Howes tells us GM wants to be able to dump a ton of money into product development “both near-term, for new cars and trucks and SUVs, and also longer term into not only alternative propulsion vehicles, but self-driving cars.”

“The new real competition that is emerging for a company like General Motors is not Ford and Toyota, it’s Google and Apple,” he says.

Howes tells us that Barra’s claim that the company is “vastly different” might be a bit of an overstatement right now, but GM is in a good position to live up to that over the coming years.

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