GM CEO Mary Barra Shares Ideas for Car of the Future as Chevrolet Wins Big

PHOTO: Mary Barra made her first public appearance at the Detroit Auto Show since being named CEO of General Motors.PlayABC News
WATCH New GM CEO Mary Barra: 'I Stayed Focused'

General Motors' Chevrolet brand took home the North American Car of the Year and North American Truck/Utility of the Year today, but it was the woman behind the winning designs -- Mary Barra -- who grabbed headlines as she made her first public appearance since being named CEO of GM.

"When I started here 33 years ago as a co-op student, [I] had no idea this was the role I would be playing, but I approached every position like I was going to be doing it for the rest of my life," she told ABC News. "And I think that's a very strong message about [how] hard work pays off. … I just go in, work hard, do what needs to be done, building a strong team."

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With the success of GM riding on her shoulders, Barra said the car of the future would take a lesson from the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, which she oversaw and which won the car award.

The Silverado took the truck award.

She told ABC News, which was given exclusive behind-the-scenes access at the Detroit Auto Show today, that one ingredient of the future car would be aluminum -- lighter and more fuel-efficient but also more resistant to minor bumps.

Another priority: connection.

"It's clear that people want to have their consumer electronics, their smartphones and probably devices we haven't even thought of today," she said.

Barra predicted that in the future, there would be a lot more electric cars that could be plugged into an outlet at home. Also, she said self-driving cars would be on the road in this lifetime and they'd be safe.

"There's a whole host of technologies that I'm talking about that I can't even talk about. … Our goal is clear," Barra said. "We'd like to be the most admired auto company."

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Barra is expected to become CEO Wednesday. She will be the first woman to head a major U.S. company, replacing Dan Akerson who will retire to care for his ailing wife.

With 33 years of experience at GM, having served in manufacturing, engineering and senior staff positions, Barra is currently executive vice president for global product development, purchasing and supply chain.

She was the first woman in her family to go to college. Her mother worked as a bookkeeper; her father worked for GM for 39 years.

Married for 28 years and a mother of two, Barra said she was a bit surprised at all the attention her promotion had received.

"I think it's just a story that if you work hard and you are dedicated every day and you work well as a team and are focused on the right things, that anyone can succeed," she said. "I think that's the message."

ABC News' Rebecca Jarvis contributed to this article.