Barra overseeing GM's handling of ignition switch recall

Barra: GM has "empowered our dealers with resources to provide affected customers with the peace of mind they deserve."
PRIMER
Related Topics

DETROIT -- General Motors CEO Mary Barra is taking charge of a team of senior executives assembled to coordinate the company's response to a recall of 1.6 million discontinued vehicles.

Barra, in an e-mail to GM employees today, said the team would monitor the company's progress on addressing the recall and adjust its course of action as necessary.

She said GM has "empowered our dealers with resources to provide affected customers with the peace of mind they deserve."

GM also has begun an internal review "to give us an unvarnished report of what happened" in the 10 years leading up to last month's recall of the Chevrolet Cobalt, Saturn Ion and four other vehicles to replace ignition switches that can unexpectedly cut power to the engine.

GM has hired an outside law firm as to help determine what went wrong.

"We will hold ourselves accountable and improve our processes so our customers do not experience this again," Barra wrote.

'Few weeks ago'

Barra wrote that the matter was "brought to my team a few weeks ago." GM decided on Jan. 31 to issue a recall and on Feb. 7 notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is now investigating whether GM acted quickly enough.

The recall was expanded on Feb. 25.

Barra wrote that GM is working with its supplier to develop and validate replacement parts quickly. The original switches were provided by Delphi Mechatronics, but the e-mail did not specify whether the replacements would be as well.

Whatever effect the recall could have on GM's image now, seven years after the vehicles went out of production, is secondary to doing "what is best for our customer," Barra wrote.

"The vehicles we make today are the best in memory and I'm confident that they will do fine, on their own merits," she wrote. "And our company's reputation won't be determined by the recall itself, but by how we address the problem going forward. What is important is taking great care of our customers and showing that it really is a new day at GM."

Ammann comments

Barra's message to employees echoes comments made earlier today by GM President Dan Ammann. Speaking on the sidelines of the Geneva auto show, Ammann said GM wants to convey a message of transparency to its customers as its new executive team grapples with the recall.

"This is a new leadership team," Ammann said. "We're aiming to do things in the right way."

Ammann said GM is being "proactive" and "transparent" in its response to the recall of the Chevrolet, Pontiac, Saturn and Opel models. Last week, regulators began investigating whether GM acted fast enough to recall the cars after identifying the flaw, which can shut off engines and disable safety systems, a problem that has been linked to 31 crashes and 13 front-seat deaths.

"We're doing everything we can to work with our customers and our dealers to get everything as straight as we can," said Ammann, the highest-ranking GM executive to publicly comment on the issue since GM announced the initial recall on Feb. 13. GM expanded the recall last week to include 842,103 more vehicles globally.

Ammann declined to elaborate on the NHTSA investigation or say whether the cost of the recall would affect GM's first-quarter earnings. GM said it would send letters to owners next week, with the first replacement parts available in early April.

Overall, GM is recalling 1.6 million vehicles worldwide, including 1.37 million in the United States. The U.S. models include 2005-07 Cobalts and Pontiac G5s, 2003-07 Ions and 2006-07 Chevy HHRs and Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky sports cars.

A heavy key ring or jarring from rough pavement can move the ignition out of the run position, cutting off the engine. If that happens, the front airbags may not work, GM said.

Early test

The recall has emerged as an early test of GM's new executive team, led by Barra, who took over in January. GM has come under fire from safety advocates and others for not recalling the cars despite knowing for nearly a decade about problems with the ignition.

Amid mounting criticism, GM last week submitted a chronological report to NHTSA that said the company first learned of the engine cutoff problem in 2004, around the time the 2005 Cobalt went on sale.

Since it announced the recall, GM has sought to distance itself from how the pre-bankruptcy company handled the problem, while insisting that today's GM would have done better.

In a statement last week, GM North America President Alan Batey said the company is "deeply sorry" for its response to the defect, which he said was "not as robust as it should have been."

You can reach Mike Colias at mcolias@crain.com.

Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.

Or submit an online comment below. (Terms and Conditions)


Newsletters & Alerts
Latest Headlines