New GM CEO first female US auto chief

Newly appointed General Motors CEO Mary Barra is the first woman to be tapped to run an American car company.

Barra, 51, was appointed on Tuesday to replace outgoing GM CEO Dan Akerson, who announced he was retiring after three years at the helm.

Barra had been GM’s executive vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain. She is now the first woman to take the wheel of a U.S. auto company, and just the 23rd to be placed in charge of a Fortune 500 company, according to a list compiled by the magazine.

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GM is the seventh-largest company on Fortune's 500 list, making Barra the highest-ranking female chief executive in the country. She is taking over the top spot from Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman, who ran unsuccessfully for California governor in 2010.

Barra's appointment was hailed by WTS International, the Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates for women in transportation careers.

“WTS is thrilled with the General Motors for appointing its first woman CEO," WTS President Marcia Ferranto said in a statement.

"This appointment will help attract more women to automotive professions," Ferranto continued. "Bringing more women into this male-dominated field is key to the future success of the industry. It’s important for young women and men in automotive to be able to look up and see more women in leadership roles. Hats off to General Motors’ Board of Directors for appointing Ms. Barra. Women in transportation across the globe appreciate and celebrate the decision.”

GM said it was turning the reins over to Barra because of her "33 years of experience" and the role she has played as a leader in the company’s ongoing turnaround.

"With 33 years of experience at GM, Barra has risen through a series of manufacturing, engineering and senior staff positions," the company said in a statement announcing Barra's promotion.

"She is a leader in the company’s ongoing turnaround, revitalizing GM’s product development process resulting in the launch of critically acclaimed new products while delivering record product quality ratings and higher customer satisfaction," the GM announcement continued.

Barra tweeted on Tuesday night that she was grateful for the support she received since news of her ascension was released.

"Thanks to Dan Akerson for his amazing leadership," she tweeted. "The new @GM team is aligned and ready to continue the momentum and pick up the pace."

GM made the announcement of Barra's promotion a day after the Treasury Department announced it had sold the last of the stocks in the company that were purchased when the federal government bailed it out in 2008 and 2009.

The controversial bailout saw the federal government recouping $39 billion of the $49.5 billion it sank into the Detroit-based company. Critics point out that means the government absorbed a $10 billion loss in the transaction.

—This story was updated with new information at 2:01 p.m.