GM's Barra in Tight Spot Among Executives on President's Advisory Panels

By Mike Colias Features Dow Jones Newswires

Among the executives under pressure to step down from President Donald Trump's business-advisory councils, General Motors Co. Chief Executive Mary Barra may have more to lose than most.

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The controversy comes as the Trump administration considers rolling back fuel-economy standards, a pet policy goal of the auto industry and a move that could eventually boost sales of GM's highly profitable pickup trucks and large sport-utility vehicles. Ms. Barra is the lone high-profile auto executive serving on the president's business panels.

There is "no change" to Ms. Barra's status as a member of Mr. Trump's Strategic and Policy Forum, a company spokesman said Tuesday evening. Earlier in the day, three more members of the president's manufacturing advisory council said they would resign in the wake of Mr. Trump's response to violent weekend clashes in Charlottesville, Va. between white supremacists and counterprotesters.

Ms. Barra has said she believes it is important to be at the table to offer context and input as the Trump administration weighs fuel-efficiency standards and other decisions that could affect the auto industry, including tax reform and trade policy.

Mr. Trump visited Michigan in March to announce a formal review of tougher fuel-economy standards put in place by the Obama administration. Analysts believe the move was a prelude to eventually relaxing regulations set to tighten starting in 2021.

"The assault on the American auto industry is over," Mr. Trump told a crowd of auto factory workers during the visit.

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GM and other auto makers have urged the Trump administration to ease the Obama-era regulations, which call for auto makers to sell vehicles that average 54.5 miles per gallon, or about 40 mpg in real-world driving, by 2025. The industry has warned that meeting the target would cost $200 billion and threaten jobs.

"For her, in particular, it's a tough spot," said Dan Hill, CEO of Hill Impact, a crisis communications firm. Ms. Barra must weigh the risk of drawing Mr. Trump's ire by leaving the council against potential fallout on GM or its brands from a consumer backlash against CEOs who won't speak out, he said.

Stephen Wade, a Utah car dealer and former chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, said Ms. Barra must consider more than her own views in weighing whether to stay on.

"It could be that she believes it's far more effective for GM and its shareholders if she hangs in there," he said.

Two other big-name auto executives have exited Mr. Trump's advisory councils in recent months. Elon Musk, chief executive of electric-vehicle maker Tesla Inc., quit two panels in June following the president's withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. Former Ford Motor Co. chief executive Mark Fields stepped down from Mr. Trump's manufacturing council after his ouster from the auto maker in May.

Write to Mike Colias at Mike.Colias@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 15, 2017 20:06 ET (00:06 GMT)