FILE PHOTO: Newly built cars sit in a shipping lot near  General Motors Car assembly plant in Oshawa, June 1, 2012. REUTERS/Mark Blinch/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Newly built cars sit in a shipping lot near General Motors Car assembly plant in Oshawa, June 1, 2012. REUTERS/Mark Blinch/File Photo
PHOTO: Mark Blinch/REUTERS
Now playing
02:36
General Motors is closing plants and cutting jobs
Passengers look out at American Airlines flight 718, a Boeing 737 Max, parked at its gate at Miami International Airport as people load for the flight to New York on December 29, 2020 in Miami, Florida. The Boeing 737 Max flew its first commercial flight since the aircraft was allowed to return to service nearly two years after being grounded worldwide following a pair of separate crashes. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Passengers look out at American Airlines flight 718, a Boeing 737 Max, parked at its gate at Miami International Airport as people load for the flight to New York on December 29, 2020 in Miami, Florida. The Boeing 737 Max flew its first commercial flight since the aircraft was allowed to return to service nearly two years after being grounded worldwide following a pair of separate crashes. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Now playing
03:15
Airlines & TSA boost security ahead of Inauguration
Philanthropist Chief Executive Officer of Las Vegas Sands Sheldon Adelson listens to US President Donald Trump address to the Israeli American Council National Summit 2019 at the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida on December 7, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Philanthropist Chief Executive Officer of Las Vegas Sands Sheldon Adelson listens to US President Donald Trump address to the Israeli American Council National Summit 2019 at the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida on December 7, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
03:14
Major GOP donor and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson dies
Democratic presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden speaks on the state of the US economy on September 4, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden speaks on the state of the US economy on September 4, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
02:02
Why Wall Street is hopeful about Biden despite economic challenges
Now playing
05:39
Ben & Jerry's calls for Trump's removal
This illustration picture shows the social media website from Parler displayed on a computer screen in Arlington, Virginia on July 2, 2020. - Amid rising turmoil in social media, recently formed social network Parler is gaining with prominent political conservatives who claim their voices are being silenced by Silicon Valley giants. Parler, founded in Nevada in 2018, bills itself as an alternative to "ideological suppression" at other social networks. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images)
This illustration picture shows the social media website from Parler displayed on a computer screen in Arlington, Virginia on July 2, 2020. - Amid rising turmoil in social media, recently formed social network Parler is gaining with prominent political conservatives who claim their voices are being silenced by Silicon Valley giants. Parler, founded in Nevada in 2018, bills itself as an alternative to "ideological suppression" at other social networks. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
03:49
Parler sues Amazon in response to being deplatformed
Panasonic
Panasonic's Augmented Reality Heads-up Display
PHOTO: Panasonic USA
Now playing
01:06
This tech gives drivers directions on the road in front of them
PHOTO: Wimkin
Now playing
03:18
The online warning signs of the violent Capitol siege
PHOTO: Twitter
Now playing
02:39
Twitter permanently suspends Donald Trump from platform
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
03:56
'What are we supposed to do?': Rioter speaks to CNN reporter
President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally protesting the electoral college certification of Joe Biden as President, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally protesting the electoral college certification of Joe Biden as President, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
PHOTO: Evan Vucci/AP
Now playing
01:38
Facebook blocks Trump through end of presidency
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
02:56
CNN speaks to Trump supporters about Trump's election lies
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 3: The Google logo adorns the outside of their NYC office Google Building 8510 at 85 10th Ave on June 3, 2019 in New York City. Shares of Google parent company Alphabet were down over six percent on Monday, following news reports that the U.S. Department of Justice is preparing to launch an anti-trust investigation aimed at Google. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 3: The Google logo adorns the outside of their NYC office Google Building 8510 at 85 10th Ave on June 3, 2019 in New York City. Shares of Google parent company Alphabet were down over six percent on Monday, following news reports that the U.S. Department of Justice is preparing to launch an anti-trust investigation aimed at Google. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Drew Angerer/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
Now playing
03:25
Google employee on unionizing: Google can't fire us all
FILE - In this undated file photo issued by the University of Oxford, a researcher in a laboratory at the Jenner Institute in Oxford, England, works on the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. Britain on Wednesday, Dec. 30, authorized use of a second COVID-19 vaccine, becoming the first country to greenlight an easy-to-handle shot that its developers hope will become the "vaccine for the world." The Department of Health said it had accepted a recommendation from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency to authorize the vaccine developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca.  (John Cairns/University of Oxford via AP, File)
FILE - In this undated file photo issued by the University of Oxford, a researcher in a laboratory at the Jenner Institute in Oxford, England, works on the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. Britain on Wednesday, Dec. 30, authorized use of a second COVID-19 vaccine, becoming the first country to greenlight an easy-to-handle shot that its developers hope will become the "vaccine for the world." The Department of Health said it had accepted a recommendation from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency to authorize the vaccine developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca. (John Cairns/University of Oxford via AP, File)
PHOTO: John Cairns/University of Oxford/AP
Now playing
02:36
AstraZeneca vaccine provides 'logistical convenience'
President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump's name appears on a stimulus check on May 3, 2020.
PHOTO: Will Lanzoni/CNN
Now playing
03:05
Here's what the new stimulus package means for Americans
PHOTO: Branislav Nenin/Shutterstock
Now playing
02:27
Is working from home the new normal?
(CNN Business) —  

Mary Barra is on a mission to ensure General Motors doesn’t get left behind in the evolving auto industry that it helped pioneer.

Barra knows that reinventing a century-old company is painful, but it’s the only option. Otherwise, it might suffer the same fate as Sears and General Electric (GE), which failed to adapt to the disruptions ahead of them.

GM is making the difficult decisions today to prepare for a future of electric and driverless vehicles. The company announced plans on Monday to cut 15% of its salaried workforce and shut five North American facilities. The moves will save GM about $6 billion a year by 2020 – money it can use to invest in the future.

“There is a huge disruption coming. And Mary doesn’t want to be stuck on the sidelines selling the buggy whips,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean for leadership studies at the Yale School of Management. “She doesn’t want to be Kodak, GE or Sears. She wants to reinvent the company.”

GM is also saying goodbye to the Chevrolet Volt, Impala, Cruze and other vehicles. Instead, GM will build more of the lucrative SUVs that Americans prefer.

“GM wants to leverage high-profit SUVs and trucks as a bridge to this autonomous future,” said Jeremy Acevedo, Edmunds manager of industry analysis.

’Quantum leaps’

Barra deserves credit for acting now before it’s too late. Tesla (TSLA) has already proven that electric vehicles are a viable and potentially lucrative business.

By 2030, electric vehicle sales worldwide will surge to 30 million, compared with 1.1 million last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Electrics will make up 11% of all sales in the United States by then.

“The technology is moving at quantum leaps now,” Acevedo said. “It is foreseeable that even a decade down the line this industry is going to be completely different than it is today. They are adapting to survive.”

In a statement, Barra said on Monday that GM recognizes “the need to stay in front of changing market conditions and customer preferences to position our company for long-term success.”

Barra said it makes sense to make these moves now while the economy and business are strong.

GM under fire

But GM is already getting criticized by politicians in the United States and Canada about plans to shut down plants that employ thousands of blue-collar workers.

The restructuring will come at the expense of about 8,000 salaried workers. Another 6,000 hourly workers will either lose their jobs or be reassigned to other plants.

“I was very tough. I spoke with her when I heard they were closing, and I said, you know, this country has done a lot for General Motors,” President Donald Trump told reporters on Monday.

Trump said he told Barra that she “better” reopen plants in the US and soon.

Of course, Barra is trying to reposition GM so that it can continue to be a major American force for the next century.

“She is not a teary-eyed nostalgic romantic over what GM was,” said Sonnenfeld. “She’s not a politician. She’s in the business of telling the truth and taking care of the economic health of her company in a responsible, honest way.”

Trying to avoid the fate of Sears

History is littered with companies that fell in love with the past at the expense of the future. Sears, a company that once dominated retail, filed for bankruptcy last month. Sears is just the latest brick-and-mortar store to fail in the era of Amazon (AMZN).

Eastman Kodak, another pioneer of its industry, succumbed to bankruptcy in 2012 after struggling to evolve from film to the age of digital photography. Kodak emerged from bankruptcy a year later.

General Electric is in crisis today because it kept a business model intact that no longer worked. Former GE CEO Jeff Immelt recently said he regrets failing to separate GE’s industrial businesses from GE Capital, its money-losing financial arm.

Under Immelt, GE also doubled down on fossil fuels in 2015 by acquiring Alstom’s power business. That deal turned out to be a disaster as coal and natural gas have been disrupted by renewable energy.

Tomorrow’s GM could look more like Uber

GM is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Walmart (WMT). Unlike Sears, Walmart invested heavily in e-commerce, including its $3.3 billion acquisition of Jet.com. Today it’s a leader among traditional retailers.

“What keeps Walmart in the game is everyday low prices,” said William Klepper, a management professor at Columbia Business School. “But what will keep Walmart ahead of obsolescence is online. And they’re just as aggressive online as anyone.”

Klepper said that GM’s leadership needs to be similarly “ambidextrous” by building better vehicles today but also reinventing for the future.

That future will likely look very different. GM is positioning itself to become a company that doesn’t just make cars, it sells rides in autonomous vehicles.

A year ago. GM said that it could go from making about $30,000 over the lifetime of every vehicle it sells to hundreds of thousands of dollars per car if it can sell rides rather than the car itself.

That kind of dramatic shift may unfortunately cause more pain for GM employees down the line.

“As they transition to this new model for the future, there will be more tough pills to swallow along the way,” said Acevedo.

CNN’s David Goldman, Chris Isidore and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.