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Barra to stay the course at GM, but accelerate

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 23, 2014 at 4:26 pm •  Published: January 23, 2014

DETROIT (AP) — General Motors Co.'s new CEO, Mary Barra, says she will largely keep in place the plans of her predecessor, from a restructuring in Europe to a focus on improving profit margins. But she hopes to accelerate that progress.

Barra held a 50-minute session a small group of reporters Thursday, her first interview becoming CEO on Jan. 15. Barra, 52, joked that the quiet conference room at GM's Detroit headquarters was a better place to talk than last week's Detroit auto show, where she was mobbed by hundreds of reporters.

Barra promised "no right or left turns" from the path laid out by former CEO Dan Akerson, who stepped down to care for his ailing wife. Under Akerson, GM rebounded from a 2009 trip to bankruptcy court. It became a publicly traded company again and reported a profit for 15 straight quarters, racking up almost $20 billion in net income thanks to stronger sales in the U.S. and China. GM restored its quarterly dividend on Akerson's last day.

"We're no longer just looking for viability, but we're looking for growth and leadership in the operations we have around the world," Barra said. "Now that some of those things have gotten the attention and are righted, let's take it and go."

Barra is going ahead with a European restructuring plan that will cost the automaker $1.1 billion this year. GM still expects to achieve 10-percent pretax profit margins in North America and break even in Europe by the middle of this decade, she said. It also wants to increase annual sales in China to 5 million by next year, up from 3.1 million last year.

Barra was Akerson's global product development chief and part of a team that helped him develop this strategy, so she's comfortable sticking with his goals.

"That's why we can keep the momentum going and look to accelerate it because there's no, 'Hey, we've got to pause and look at this,'" she said.

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