Why Indian auto chiefs must listen to Mary Barra

Towards the end of next week, Mary Barra, General Motors’ CEO will be in India to visit her company’s facilitiesat Halol and Talegaon, and address SIAM’s annual meeting.

By Brian de Souza calendar 05 Sep 2014 Views icon9576 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp

Towards the end of next week, Marry Barra, General Motors’ CEO will be in India to visit her company’s facilitiesat Halol and Talegaon, and address SIAM’s annual meeting. Her attendance at that meeting has not been confirmed but it would be good if it is, as all Indian auto bosses should listen to what she has to say.

Barra (who Autocar Professional featured as a newsmaker in 2013) made history in January when she became the first woman to lead America’s Top 3 auto giants. The story of her life is amazing. A GM veteran, she took the helm after spending three decades rising up through the company ranks. She also inherited a company tacking a raft of financial and legal issues, all related to its 2009 bankruptcy filing.

Soon after she took over, she had the handle the case of faulty ignitions in the Chevy Cobalt (that allegedly caused at least 13 deaths). When an investigation showed that GM had not acted faster despite getting to know of the issue almost a decade ago, she had the guts to admit that, make the report public, and recall at least 2.6 million cars.

That says a lot not only about her courage but also perhaps, her humility and above all, transparency in tackling an issue that had enormous implications for safety.

Now, let’s look at India’s case where OEMs seem loathe to admit even acknowledging a recall afraid that it might affect a product’s reputation. While SIAM has made a start in the right direction with the Voluntary Recall Code in 2012, we still do not have mandatory law for recalls.

It has been argued that recalls should be treated differently in India as unlike in the west, the average car owner has a wider exposure to how recalls work. But the fact is that a recall is a recall, and should be handled with efficiency and complete transparency.

That where Barra’s example must be emulated.

In a previous interaction with this publication, Dr Wolfgang Ziebart, director, group engineering, Jaguar-Land Rover, talking about recalls, said, “ If you have an issue, you must be instantly, completely transparent not to hide anything as the outside world will discover everything. Either you are open, or you are lost.”

In the case of GM, the investigator’s report  found that while its engineers failed to consider stalling a safety issue, much had to do with a culture that prevented information sharing and discouraged people from taking action on problems was partly to blame.

It is learnt that she is apparently encouraging people to speak up about potential safety concerns, and is rewarding – not punishing –  those who do so. That’s a big takeaway for head honchos in the auto sector.

For one, at next week’s SIAM convention, it would be great to hear what captains of industry say about the findings of the Competition Commission of India on the alleged mark-up of spare prices. Tens of thousands of car owners want to know if they were short-changed. For an industry headed to being one of the world’s biggest, this is what we owe the present and future buyers of cars.

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