Barra Leads GM Trip Exploring Growth in India

Maker searching for ways to avoid pitfalls.

by on Sep.12, 2014

General Motors CEO Mary Barra and GM India Managing Director Arvind Saxena roll out the first Chevrolet Beat for export from the GM Talegaon manufacturing facility in India.

For the world’s automakers, India is a land of unlimited potential. It has a large, well-educated and growing middle-class with an entrepreneurial tradition and a dynamic culture that has spread its influence around the world.

General Motors certainly is no exception when it comes to its interest in India. In fact, Mary Barra, GM’s CEO, and several board members traveled to the country to gain more insight into how the automaker can avoid the pitfalls other automakers have experienced.

We Stretch Your Horizons!

The auto industry in India has been hobbled by seeming intractable infrastructure problems that have limited the attraction of automobiles despite the rising incomes from India’s proficient tech culture.

Even Tata, the protean maker of steel and cars, which owns Jaguar and Land Rover, faced challenges as it as tried to put rising generation of Indian consumers behind the wheel of new cars, such as the relatively inexpensive Nano.

However, Barra said this week India’s potential and its allure remains undiminished.

“India represents a great opportunity for Chevrolet,” Barra said. “With a relatively small vehicle population and rapidly growing, young middle class, India is expected to become one of the world’s three largest markets by 2020,” noted at the conclusion of a three-day “fact-finding” visit to India that included a meeting with India’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi

“GM is working to better understand the Indian market so we can give Indian customers what they deserve – safe, high-quality Chevrolet vehicles with exceptional designs that exceed expectations,” Barra said.

Barra was accompanied by Tim Solso, non-executive chairman of the GM Board of Directors; Stefan Jacoby, executive vice president and president, GM International; Chuck Stevens, GM executive vice president and chief financial officer; and Arvind Saxena, GM India president and managing director, during a series of visits to GM installations around the country where she met employees and suppliers as well as government representatives.

During a Wednesday visit to the Talegaon manufacturing facility in Pune, Barra participated in the celebration of the production of the Beat, the first Chevrolet vehicle to be exported from India. Vehicles initially will be exported to Chile starting later this year.

Barra noted GM, which was an early investor in the booming Chinese auto market during the 1990s, has also spent about $1 billion in India to date and its Talegaon and Halol facilities can produce more than 280,000 vehicles per year. The GM Technical Center-India is carrying out local and global engineering projects, and GM India’s growing lineup of Chevrolet models is sold through the company’s nationwide dealer network.

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Meeting with several of GM India’s top suppliers in Pune, Barra discussed opportunities for global sourcing and improved partnerships as GM continues to localize its supply base and make greater use of products manufactured in India.

Jacoby is scheduled to address the annual convention of the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers in New Delhi, “GM remains open to the long-term prospects for India and its automotive industry,” said Jacoby. “However, we are going in with our eyes wide open to ensure that our investment is good for India and good for General Motors.”

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Before she left for India, Barra was greeted by a small contingent of activists, protesting what they described as unsafe working conditions in GM factories outside the United States. The demonstrators unfurled a banner in front of Cobo Center before Barra’s speech to the Intelligent Transportation Society’s World Congress, which read, “GM Workers Are Not Disposable.”

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The Halol plant visited by Barra during her trip to India this week has been the site of chronic labor disputes over the past four years. Paige Shell-Spurling, one of the principal organizers of the demonstration outside Cobo, said information supplied by the general secretary of the Indian National Trade Union Congress indicated 269 instances of spinal injuries have been documented in the plant – out of a plant employing 1,600.

When asked about the demonstration, however, Barra, who served as GM vice president of human resources at one point during her career, said complaints by workers have been reviewed by local authorities in Colombia where injured workers have staged a long-running protest against GM compensation polices and practices and in India and have been “well-vetted.”

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