James Moore: Barra's mission to help GM drive up the US economy

 

Outlook Congratulations to Mary Barra, who has become the first female boss of a big US car maker by taking over General Motors just as it stopped being unofficially known as Government Motors.

It's not only banks that enjoyed big bailouts during the financial crisis. GM got one too. But people tend to be a little more forgiving of public money being pumped into car makers, even if the results are often unsatisfactory (see Britain, Rover).

That's because the relatively well paid, skilled manual jobs they provide are scarce in the Western world and devilishly hard to replace once gone. They might even be worth the $10,000 (£6,086) a pop the US taxpayer has effectively shelled out to keep the ones provided by GM going.

The job of Ms Barra now is to ensure the company contributes to America's threadbare coffers rather than acting as a drain upon them.

Having joined the business as an engineering student, she's had stints heading the design function as well as overseeing GM's human capital. So she's earned her spurs. Concentrating on building cars that Americans want to drive, and can afford to keep topped up with fuel in an era of high oil prices, would be a good way for her to keep them sharp.

Ms Barra will no doubt now be hearing from a bevy of bankers, brandishing all sorts of whacky financing ideas they will claim to offer a shortcut to getting this business back to the races. She'd do well to keep them in the rear view mirror.

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