GM hires former PR head Harris to help with recall crisis

Steve Harris: Back to GM, again.

UPDATED: 5/7/14 11:36 pm ET - adds Chrysler, AMC background

DETROIT (Bloomberg) -- General Motors Co., working to contain a crisis over the recall of 2.59 million cars with faulty ignition switches linked to at least 13 deaths, hired Steve Harris, its former public relations head, as a consultant.

“We continue to draw from a variety of expertise to help guide our response,” Greg Martin, a GM spokesman, said Wednesday in a statement. Harris’ “deep background with GM and proven experience will be of great help to us during this period.”

Harris joins a team of outsiders brought in by CEO Mary Barra as she grapples with the recalls that began in February and have led to investigations by Congress, federal regulators and the U.S. Justice Department. They’re looking into why it took GM more than a decade to recall cars with switches that allowed keys to slip out of the “on” position, shutting off the engine and disabling air bags.

The company has hired Jeff Eller, a crisis-communications expert who worked in the Clinton White House, along with Kenneth Feinberg, who determined compensation for 9/11 survivors. Feinberg is working on what GM should do for victims of the crashes. Jenner & Block LLC Chairman Anton Valukas, who prepared the report on the Lehman Brothers Holdings’ bankruptcy, is leading an internal probe into who knew what, and when, about the ignition flaws.

Harris was GM’s top PR executive on two occasions. He held the job of vice president of global communications from 1999 until 2003, when he retired for the first time, according to his biography on McGinn & Co., a PR firm that lists him as a partner. He returned to GM in 2006 and retired again in 2009 after the company’s bankruptcy reorganization.

Harris joined GM from the former DaimlerChrysler AG in 1999. He was a chief architect of Chrysler Corp.'s image rebuilding in the 1990s under executives including Lee Iacocca and Bob Lutz.

He came to Chrysler after its 1987 purchase of American Motors Corp., where he was director of product public relations.

Harris also spent the first 13 years of his career at GM.

GM's hiring of him as a consultant was reported earlier today by The Wall Street Journal.

The automaker is still looking for a new top spokesperson to replace Selim Bingol, who left last month, Martin said.

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