If you love technology, get ready for an exciting ride, General Motors’ chief executive Mary Barra told me last night.
She was speaking at a gala dinner for local dignitaries, dealers and hacks, on her first big trip to Europe in the GM hot seat, timed for the introduction of the all-important Vauxhall Astra, and could not disguise her enthusiasm for the on-rush of technology.
The automotive world's highest-ranking female executive, who trained as an electrical engineer, Barra told a rapt audience that she believed there would be four key ways in which cars would change quickly in future: in the sophistication and efficiency of their powerplants, the way they were owned and shared, the way they are connected with other aspects of our lives, and the way we drive them.
Nobody could have a complete vision of how things would pan out, she said, but she was entirely undaunted because she believed that following its upheaval in the later 2000s, GM has once again assembled world-beating technical teams, not least in Europe where Opel Vauxhall was “critically important to GM”.
Speaking crisply and quickly with a fluent delivery, Barra spoke of her commitment to building GM into “the most valued automobile company in the business".
She enthusiastically backed the contention of GM's European boss, Karl-Thomas Neumann, that the forthcoming Astra (200kg lighter, bigger inside and smaller outside) was “the best Opel ever built”, for which the company already held 30,000 orders.
Barra did her best to dismiss decisively the idea of a merger with FCA, aggressively proposed in over recent weeks by Fiat Chrysler's Sergio Marchionne.
"This is not a good topic," she said. "We have studied the proposal in tremendous detail and we taken expert advice. We are focused on doing the right thing for GM interests and have concluded this is not in the best interests of GM shareholders." She said the view "resonated" with GM shareholders.
On other subjects, Barra promised an eventual, well-co-ordinated return to Europe for Cadillac, though the concentration for now was on US and Chinese markets. She promised that an electric car would be one of 29 new models the company had planned for Europe between now and 2020.
Another debutante would be an Insignia-sized SUV. She undertook to take "a much more planned and proactive" attitude to producing right-hand-drive versions of forthcoming models (though the battery-powered Bolt, planned for Europe, won't be sold in the UK because the steering wheel is on the wrong side).
Finally, Barra agreed with Neumann that Opel Vauxhall would break even in 2016 and turn a profit thereafter.
It was an impressive performance, all in all, but it needed to be; GM still faces hard times in Russia and South America and its all-important Chinese interests are not expanding at anything like the rate they once were. As Barra readily agreed, some "mighty" challenges lay ahead.