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Incoming General Motors CEO Mary Barra smiles after the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray received the North American Car of the Year award at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Monday, Jan. 13, 2014.

Paul Sancya/AP

The appointment of Mary Barra as chief executive officer of General Motors Co. will help the company diversify its customers, says Mark Reuss, president of the auto maker's North American operations.

"We don't sell to a bunch of white males in the Midwest," Mr. Reuss told reporters Monday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit Monday, explaining the importance of diversity to the company.

He said he and Ms. Barra, who will take over as CEO on Wednesday from Dan Akerson, have worked in the past four years to change GM's recruiting practices at universities to broaden the company's employee base as well.

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"The diversity piece is very important," he said.

Ms. Barra's participation in product development in recent years has given her an insight into the mistakes the auto maker made on vehicles before it went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009, he added.

Mr. Reuss will succeed Ms. Barra as head of global product development for GM.

In a separate roundtable with Canadian reporters in Detroit, General Motors of Canada Ltd. president Kevin Williams said he expects overall vehicle sales in Canada to surpass the record hit in 2013.

"We think in general the industry has some robust traction," he said. He expects GM Canada to increase its market share from the 13.5 per cent level it hit last year.

GM Canada kept its market share flat against 2012 when a robust December sales increase of 17 per cent compensated for market share declines during several other months of the year.

Mr. Williams reiterated a point he made last year about the dangers of auto makers offering low-interest loans to buyers that are eight years or longer.

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"Some customers are going to wake up some day and ask themselves: 'Did that 96-month term really help me?'" he said.

Mr. Williams and car dealers of many brands have expressed concern that customers with interest-free or low-interest loans for eight years will return to dealerships when it's time to buy a new car and find they still have debt remaining to be paid off on their existing vehicles.

Mr. Williams said GM Canada would try to offer a balanced approach to meeting customers' demands for monthly payments as low as possible, including restoring leasing to somewhere in the mid-teens as a percentage of sales.

On the manufacturing front, he said the company's Cami Automotive Inc. assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ont., is being prepared for a new vehicle, but it's not known yet if it will build the next generation of the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain crossover vehicles made there now.

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About the Author
Auto and Steel Industry Reporter

Greg Keenan has covered the automotive and steel industries for The Globe and Mail since 1995. He also writes about broader manufacturing trends. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto and of the University of Western Ontario School of Journalism. More


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