General Motors announced today that Mary Barra will succeed Dan Akerson as the company's first female CEO.
The 30-year GM veteran has spent the last few years as executive vice president of global product development and senior vice president for global product development.
There, she was "responsible for the design, engineering, program management and quality of General Motors vehicles around the world," according to her GM bio.
That makes her an excellent choice to lead the automaker, because in the past few years GM has produced a ton of outstanding vehicles, with a visible uptick in sales.
In an email, Kelly Blue Book Senior Analyst Alec Gutierrez wrote "in November, GM saw sales improved by more than 13 percent, thanks in large part to a host of new introductions and redesigns that have caught the attention of consumers."
KBB President Jared Rowe wrote that "GM is in more than capable hands, as we've seen some of the best products released under Mary Barra, who has helped to oversee the development of their vehicles on a global scale."
So let's run through some of those successes.
The clearest example is the resurgence of Cadillac in the past decade, which has really accelerated over the past two years. This year, the formerly defunct luxury brand brought out two all-new models, the ATS and XTS sedans, and introduced a new generation of the CTS. All three look great and are selling nicely, and the CTS was named Motor Trend's Car of the Year, one of the more prestigious awards in the industry.
In July, Consumer Reports named the Impala the best sedan on the market right now, giving it a 95/100 rating (the Tesla Model S got a higher score, but is classified as a luxury hatchback).
Then there's the Corvette. It's gorgeous, and it's relatively affordable (starting at $51,000). The car gets surprisingly excellent gas mileage. It's the new benchmark for sports cars.
Even Buick has put good cars on the road of late. Named Best Value Luxury Brand for 2013 by Kelley Blue Book, it introduced three models at the New York International Auto Show. We've said that one of those, the Regal GS (Gran Sport), "might actually be a car for young people."
And if Buick doesn't catch on in the U.S., it's still the top luxury brand in China, the world's largest auto market.
GM has big eyes for China, and has done a good job tweaking its products to help them sell there. When it saw that Chinese executives were buying minivans to use for business on the road, it built a luxury version of its Buick GL8 minivan, driving 2011 sales up 28% over 2010 for that model.
Cadillac is pushing its largest sedan, the XTS, in the Chinese market, where car owners spend more time in the backseat being chauffeured than their American counterparts. It may make some changes to improve rear legroom in the ATS and CTS, Jim Vurpillat, the brand's strategic development director, said in an October interview.
Of course, GM hasn't had a perfect record. We liked the Volt but weren't blown away, and the automaker announced this month that it's pulling Chevy out of Europe.
But overall, we've been impressed by what GM has produced in the past few years, so putting the head of product at the top of the company looks like a good move.
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