The fragility of the industry's relationship with Washington was on full display in November 2018 when GM was blasted by lawmakers including Rep. Debbie Dingell for announcing a major overhaul of its global operations that included job cuts and possible factory closures in Michigan, Ohio and elsewhere.
Dingell — a Michigan Democrat who spent more than 30 years at GM, where she was president of its philanthropic arm and a senior executive for public affairs — criticized the restructuring at the time. In a 2018 CNN interview, she referred to the automaker as "the most thoroughly disliked company in Washington, D.C., right now."
"While we strive for consensus and alignment on a lot of policy issues ... there are going to be times where running a business and the policy imperatives of our elected officials are not aligned, and so there will be times of disagreement," Vargas said of the criticism. "We'll work through those and that's what a relationship is about."
Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly was one of the factories where GM said it would end production and not allocate any products. The plant, at the time, built the Chevrolet Volt and Impala, Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac CT6.
The location was spared from closure during UAW labor negotiations in late 2019 and now plays a key role in the automaker's EV future. GM invested $2.2 billion to renovate the plant, now called Factory Zero, to build all-electric utilities and pickups.
President Joe Biden attended the plant's opening in November, telling Barra during his remarks: "You changed the whole story, Mary. ... You electrified the entire automobile industry."
"I think she took very seriously the observations I've made, and she has been working hard to improve GM's relationships in Washington," Dingell said.
Still, Dingell said automakers need to do a better job at communicating with members of Congress about their product plans, "what they're doing for the workers, how they're going to help keep the economy strong" as well as understanding other stakeholders' regulatory and environmental concerns during such a major industry transformation.
"It's a two-way street," she said. "We need to understand the challenges they face, and they need to understand we're trying to protect the American economy and the American worker."