DETROIT -- Last week, CEO Dan Akerson put his stamp on General Motors Co.
His most significant senior-management shakeup so far aims to intensify GM's focus on leading technologies. And he defied convention with his pick of a new product chief.
Tom Stephens, 62, who took over for retired product chief Bob Lutz in 2009, becomes GM's first global chief technology officer -- an area Akerson, also 62, has pushed since taking the helm in September.
Mary Barra, 49, a former global head of manufacturing engineering and currently GM's human resources chief, succeeds Stephens as GM's product development boss. The changes are effective Feb. 1.
OnStar also gets a new leader: Linda Marshall, who once worked for Akerson at Nextel Communications Inc., replaces the departing Chris Preuss.
The shuffling reinforces Akerson's mantra that GM must win on technology. The former telecom exec's installation of Marshall shows an urgency to rejuvenate OnStar, which has been surpassed by Ford's Sync infotainment system in driver-friendly features.
Stephens' appointment highlights Akerson's fixation on improving fuel economy through innovations such as the Chevrolet Volt's plug-in hybrid powertrain.
In an address to the Automotive News World Congress this month, Akerson said the industry is entering a "technological revolution" in vehicle propulsion, which he said "will drive the success and drive the losers [out] of the next generation."
Stephens, a powertrain specialist, could help GM develop longer-range innovations, such as a gasoline engine that runs, like a diesel, with high compression and no spark plugs.
"Putting somebody with Tom's experience in that position shows that Dan knows technology is more important than ever, especially around powertrain," said Xavier Mosquet, a senior partner at the Boston Consulting Group who advised the U.S. government on its bailout of GM.