KEITH CRAIN

Barra should recuse herself from GM investigation

COMMENTARY
Keith Crain is editor-in-chief of Automotive News.
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General Motors is under attack from all sides. It is time for GM’s leaders to act quickly and decisively to investigate the circumstances that led to the global recall of 1.6 million 2003-07 model vehicles because of defective ignition switches.

GM has done the right thing in hiring outside legal counsel to run the investigation, but the company must go a step further.

Because CEO Mary Barra was working for GM in key positions during the period that will be scrutinized, she should recuse herself from participation in the investigation. As good a CEO as Barra might be and as committed as she appears to be to leading a no-holds-barred inquiry, she has been involved with GM engineering for many years.

Anyone who worked at GM during the period in which the faulty switches were installed and the problems went undetected or unreported should be excused from participating.

Instead, GM should entrust oversight to two other officers: Non-Executive Chairman Tim Solso, the ex-CEO of Cummins, and President Dan Ammann, previously GM CFO.

Neither executive was involved with GM during the time in question. Ammann joined GM in 2010, and Solso became a member of GM’s board in 2012. They are the right executives to supervise the investigation and to determine what occurred, when it occurred and who is responsible.

The situation is complicated further by the fact that the GM that designed and built the vehicles involved in the recall no longer exists. The automaker has since come through bankruptcy.

The entire investigation must be done quickly and thoroughly, and GM must be in charge of the investigation from the beginning. There are all sorts of federal agencies and congressional committees itching to become involved. GM cannot afford for the investigation to become a broad witch hunt.

The company is at a critical crossroads in its relaunch. It has the right product and right people to go forward. It cannot let this tragic situation halt its ongoing recovery. The faster GM moves, the better it will be for customers, dealers and employees.

I hope the chairman and president take charge immediately and remain free from external influence.

It is a tough and critical assignment, but those executives must accept the challenge.

You can reach Keith Crain at kcrain@crain.com.

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