DETROIT -- It has been just over two years since Mary Barra became the surprise pick to steer General Motors' global vehicle development, instantly rocketing her from a relative unknown to one of the industry's highest profile executives.
She'll get a report card soon. Over the next 18 months, GM is embarking on one of the company's busiest-ever launch schedules. Some of the vehicles will be the first cars and trucks developed soup-to-nuts on Barra's watch.
"The stuff you'll start to see later this year -- this summer and fall -- those generally are going to be Mary's," says Doug Parks, GM's vice president of product programs and Barra's top lieutenant. "You can start to judge her soon."
So far Barra can be judged on a measure not quite as exciting as fresh sheet metal: her behind-the-scenes overhaul of the 29,000-employee, $15 billion enterprise that creates GM's cars and trucks.
If Bob Lutz's legacy as GM car czar last decade was the return of some spirit and style to the product portfolio, Barra's is the injection of discipline and rigor into the product-development process, so as to transform GM into a more nimble, more profitable carmaker.
Last summer, Barra quashed the team structure that had been in use on GM's vehicle-development programs since 1996. Gone is a setup that often left three engineering execs bickering over, say, the placement of a cupholder. Now one lead engineer has sole control and accountability for the program.
Barra, a 51-year-old mother of two teenagers, largely has banned costly, late-in-the-game changes to vehicle programs that routinely delayed launches.
"She's bringing order to chaos," GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky says. "And she does it in a calm, direct way."
Barra's cut-to-the-chase style is meant to be an antidote to the dithering and redundancies that historically have slowed GM's development cycles and wasted money.