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General Motors CEO Mary Barra Wednesday, January 8, 2014 at the GM Renaissance Center Global Headquarters in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Steve Fecht for General Motors)

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Mary Barra Speaks Truth To Rich White Men In Houston

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, went to the CERA conference in Houston this week to push for more industry cooperation on electric car charging infrastructure, uniform vehicle emissions standards, and support for renewable energy. Good on ya, Mary!

Top auto company executives are getting bashed left and right these days for being troglodytes who can’t seem to figure out the world is changing and they have to change with it. Most recently, Matthias Müller, head of Volkswagen, popped off about how people would learn to love diesel powered cars again, once a few minor issues like high particulate levels and nitrogen oxide emissions were resolved (something VW and others have been working on for nearly 30 years).

Mary Barra GM CEONo sooner had Müller extricated his foot from his mouth than Carlos Tavares, CEO of PSA Group, took center stage to whine that taxpayers and private companies haven’t done enough to create charging infrastructure for electric cars and that’s why Peugeot and Citroen aren’t building any. All around the world — with the exception of China — chief executives are doing the shuck and jive when it comes to actually gearing up to build electric cars, especially those that are affordable enough for mainstream drivers.

Which is why Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, deserves a hand today. This week at the CERAWeek energy conference in Houston, Barra said several things that should have made the old white men in attendance sit up and take notice. On Monday, Amin Nasser, CEO of Saudi Aramco told CNBC it would take “generations” for a transformation toward electric vehicles in the transportation industry to take place.

Not so, countered Barra. “I think it’s going to happen more quickly than decades,” she told CNBC. “As more and more people recognize that we have the right range, understand that we have a charging infrastructure so they don’t think you’re going to be stranded, I think you’re going to see EV adoption continue.”

Barra told the conference that GM is planning to boost production of the Chevy Bolt later this year in order to meet demand not only in the US but in world markets as well. (James will be along shortly to tell you more about that). She also invited those in attendance to work with General Motors to create a more robust charging infrastructure for North America. She seems to understand better than other industry execs that chargers are the key to electric car sales.

“You’ve got to have good consumer confidence that they’re going to be able to drive their vehicles and it’s going to support their daily lives and their hectic life,” she said. “We see a role in investing, in partnering, and making sure that that customer need is fulfilled.”

Next, Barra called for an extension of EV incentives at the federal level, along with a uniform set of fuel economy and emissions standards in all 50 states. At present, car companies make one group of cars that conforms to laws in 40 states and another group that conforms to the stricter standards imposed by California and the 9 states that follow its policies.

Meeting two different standards costs manufacturers money, so it’s understandable why they would prefer one standard. That should be easy. Everyone adopt the California rules. Meeting adjourned.

Finally, Barra called on the energy executives in attendance to support increases in renewable energy generation, pointing out correctly that people who are interested in electric cars are also interested in powering them from green energy resources.

We have not always been kind to Mary Barra here at CleanTechnica, but perhaps we should reassess our position for a number of reasons. A, she is the only female executive at a global auto manufacturer. This being International Women’s Week, that should get her at least an honorable mention. B, while we may complain that GM is moving slowly in its electric car program, at least it is moving. Crosstown rivals Ford and Chrysler seem to have no active interest in electric cars at present.

It takes courage to stand up in room full of oil executives and attempt to get them to see beyond the ends of their noses. Kudos to Mary Barra for daring to speak truth to them. Perhaps we should invite her to become a member of the CleanTechnica community. What do you think?

 
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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.

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