UPDATED: 5/28/14 9:32 pm ET -- adds details
DETROIT -- In spite of a slew of recalls that have dogged the company for months, General Motors white-collar employees are working with high spirits, a top GM executive said Wednesday.
Employee morale is high compared with 2012, Mark Reuss, GM’s global product chief, said at the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix 2014 Technology Forum in Detroit.
He attributed the uptick in morale to new CEO Mary Barra’s management style.
Barra, who became CEO in January, previously had Reuss’ job as head of global product development. She is the first woman to lead a major automaker and has been praised for her problem-solving skills and a collaborative approach to management.
“Mary and I spend a lot of time with employees,” Reuss said. “We tell them what’s going on, where we’re at, where we’re going to be in a month, where we’re going to be in a week. We’re being really transparent.”
The company is facing U.S. Department of Justice, congressional and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration probes after faulty ignition switches in some GM small cars were linked to 47 crashes and 13 deaths.
Anton Valukas, the lawyer hired by GM to conduct an independent investigation of the company’s handling of the defect and recall, is expected to release his findings in the coming weeks. GM has already suspended two engineers and reassigned another high-level executive for their roles in the recall.
So far in 2014, GM has issued 30 recalls covering about 15 million vehicles worldwide.
Reuss said he had just received the results of a survey -- which is regularly administered to all GM employees -- while at the event. He said the outside company that conducts the survey had never seen such a dramatic improvement.
The last survey of GM's salaried employees worldwide was conducted in 2012, Reuss said, three years after the company emerged from a government-led bankruptcy.
A GM spokeswoman declined to comment further on the results of the employee survey.
In addition to employee satisfaction, Reuss used the racing and technology forum to tout GM’s foray into autonomous vehicles a day after Google announced plans to field a fleet of 100 self-driving vehicles.
“We’ve been doing autonomous vehicle technology for quite a while,” he said, citing GM’s stop-start and other driver assistance features.
Reuss said he has seen Google's prototype only in a photograph but described the little vehicle as “kind of cool.”
“Anybody can do anything with enough time and money,” he said. “If they set their mind to it, I have no doubt, that” they could become “a very serious competitive threat.”
The auto industry will introduce autonomous vehicles “over years,” he added.
In a speech during the racing forum, Reuss said the Belle Isle Grand Prix this weekend was a welcome change of pace for Barra and him.
Reuss and Barra will help wave the green flag to help start the race.
“We both need some fun right now,” Reuss said.