DETROIT — General Motors is committed to creating a sexual "harassment-free" workplace, CEO Mary Barra said Monday.
"It's unacceptable to not have a policy (against sexual harassment)," she said. Her year-end interview and press conference at an Automotive Press Association reception came less than a week after Time magazine named "Silence Breakers" — women who have spoken up about sexual harassment — as its 2017's Person of the Year.
"We encourage our employees that if something is happening, that they raise it. There will be no retaliation," said Barra, who is the first woman to lead a major auto company.
On other topics, Barra said during the event in downtown Detroit that she opposes the Trump administration's proposal to repeal the $7,500 federal tax credit for consumers who buy or lease all-electric vehicles. She also supports the "general direction" of tax legislation before Congress that would reduce the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%.
"We're very supportive of tax reform, and generally the bills before Congress move in the right direction," Barra said. But tucked in the bill passed by the House of Representatives is the proposed repeal of the electric vehicle tax credit.
"Repealing that credit will have an impact because it changes the equation that determines whether people want an electric vehicle," she said.
Another provision in the tax bill would eliminate the deduction for graduate school tuition. Barra and other industry leaders support so-called STEM education, an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. To be ready to step into software, electrical engineering and product development jobs in the auto industry, most young people earn at least one master's degree.
Barra didn't address that provision specifically, but she did say that almost 40% of GM's salaried workers in the U.S. have been with the company less than five years.
The other topic consuming much of the nearly hour-long exchange was autonomous vehicle technology.
Barra and her leadership team have convinced analysts, suppliers and some journalists that GM is moving faster than many others in this rapidly emerging area. In early 2016, the largest U.S. automaker invested $500 million in the ride-hailing business Lyft and acquiring Cruise Automation, a San Francisco-based company focused on autonomous vehicle technology.
GM and Cruise are testing fleets of self-driving Chevrolet Bolts in San Francisco, Scottsdale, Ariz., and metro Detroit. Early in 2018 they will start testing autonomous Bolts in Manhattan.
Last month, Barra told investors that GM should make a profit on the next generation of electric vehicles, launching in 2021, because the batteries will cost nearly one-third less than the batteries in today's Bolt.
"We are committed to a future electric vehicle portfolio that is profitable," said Barra, speaking at the Barclays 2017 Global Automotive Conference in New York.
In October, GM product development chief Mark Reuss said the company intends to introduce 20 new electric vehicles by 2023.
Perhaps the most significant decision General Motors completed in 2017 was its decision to sell its Opel and Vauxhall businesses in Europe, where it had lost money for most of the 21st century.
While Wall Street saluted the move, it also means GM won't likely reclaim the crown it once coveted as the world's largest automaker.
"We have to be good stewards of our shareholders' capital," Barra said. "We want to grow, but if we're somewhere we just don't see a path to earning an adequate return we will change.
"We're not the company that plants a flag everywhere and tries to be everything to all people."
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