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Tsinghua SEM holds dialogue with global car giant GM


Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management (Tsinghua SEM) held a dialogue with global car giant General Motors (GM) on March 13, 2023. The event was hosted by Tsinghua SEM Associate Dean LI Jizhen.

BAI Chong-En, dean of Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management, and Mary T. Barra, chair and CEO of General Motors, speak via video link on March 13, 2023.

BAI Chong-En, dean of Tsinghua SEM, and Mary T. Barra, chair and CEO of GM, attended the event via video link to discuss topics such as technology, carbon neutrality and talent cultivation.

Tsinghua SEM Associate Dean LI Jizhen hosted the event.

The artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot ChatGPT has attracted extensive attention worldwide, and BAI asked Barra how AI will play a role in shaping the future of the automotive industry.

Barra said the development of AI is only going to accelerate, and AI-powered technology will expand to new markets quickly and safely. She gave the example of Cruise, a maker of autonomous-driving cars. "A Cruise vehicle is able to generalize to new and previously unseen scenarios in different cities, and that means every time we go to a new city we'll be able to operate autonomous vehicles. We aren't starting from scratch," she said.

Barra said deploying AI is a trust race as well as a technology race. "This is not humans versus AI. This is human-supported artificial intelligence. Like any other technology, [AI] is developed by humans and will be a joining force with us to shape the future for the better," she said, "It is imperative that we identify the most valuable work humans can create, and ensure the technologies we develop are safe and beneficial. Over the long term this can support GM's vision to create a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion."

BAI applauded GM's goals and asked how to expand that mission beyond a single company and how to confirm strategic priorities. Barra said GM began studying people's movement patterns several years ago and has been pursuing partnerships across industries including supply base in battery R&D and manufacturing and EV charging providers. "We believe the all-electric future with safer driving systems and autonomous vehicles should be accessible to all," Barra said.

Carbon neutrality has become a common goal of countries across the world. BAI invited Barra to share information about her company's role in this global endeavor. Barra said GM has been taking actions to drive a sustainable future. The company doubled its climate equity fund to US $50 million and pledged carbon neutrality by 2040 for its global products and operations as part of a commitment to the Business Ambition Pledge for 1.5°C.

GM also developed a dedicated EV (electric vehicles) platform called Ultium, China's local GSEV platform and HYDROTEC fuel cell technology. It will steadily progress in sourcing 100 percent of electricity for US facilities from renewable energy by 2025, and globally by 2035.

GM China has also strived to achieve carbon neutrality as "over 50 percent of China's manufacturing footprint for GM is being converted to become capable of EV production by 2030," Barra said.

As China has entered a new era of high-quality development, Barra shared her thoughts on GM's latest strategy to seek new market opportunities in the country. "China has a philosophy of suggesting an eco-friendly environment that will bring sustainable economic development. GM's vision very much aligns with it," Barra said. The company believes in the long-term vitality of China's economic growth and the development of its vehicle market, and it sees a huge opportunity for growth in China, she said.

GM has identified two prominent market trends in China - intelligent EVs enabled by technologies and customers' pursuit for a more diverse lifestyle, Barra said, adding the company is fully prepared for both.

According to Barra, the company has made new investments in China in the past two years as part of its unwavering commitment to the country. It established the Durant Guild, a premium import business to bring in the most iconic models from GM and invested in Momenta to develop the L2++ technology tailored for the Chinese market.

BAI and Barra also discussed talent cultivation. BAI reiterated Tsinghua University's commitment to helping students to become future leaders with international influence. He invited Barra to share her insights on maintaining talent competitiveness.

"People always come first at GM. We work hard around the world to create an environment where people feel included, valued, recognized and properly compensated," Barra said. GM has built up a highly capable team of local talents in the past 25 years.

Barra said students around the world are value and mission based. Their desire to work for a company that aligns with their values and is going to change the world is important. "GM becomes somewhere that people want to work because they want to make a difference," she said.

As an executive with 36 years of work experience in GM, Barra said she thinks young people should have curiosity and lifelong commitment to learning in this time of rapid change. "For someone entering the education system as a young child, the career they're going to have probably doesn't exist yet," she said.

Tsinghua SEM students pose their questions to GM CEO Mary Barra, March 13, 2023.

At the end, Barra answered questions raised by the students about the future of energy, vertical partnerships, supply chain resilience and how to deal with uncertainty. The event was attended by as many as 200 Tsinghua SEM students, alumni and faculty.

Editor: REN Zhongxi