What would Akerson say now about GM safety?

Akerson: Timing is everything.

During an informal speaking tour/victory lap leading up to his January retirement, then-General Motors CEO Dan Akerson often noted the company's vastly improved quality and safety record.

Akerson boasted that GM's recall rate in recent years was among the industry's lowest. The company recalled just 757,677 vehicles in the United States last year, the smallest number among the seven largest automakers.

But he lamented that the improvement wasn't being reflected in an improved reputation.

"You go out on the average street in America and say: 'What do you think about GM or American quality?' And they'll say: 'The Japanese are the best,'" Akerson said in a speech in Detroit in early January.

He continued: "Well, Honda and Toyota for the last three years have accounted for more than half of the total recalls in the United States."

But Akerson's boast now rings hollow, after GM's U.S. total for 2014 ballooned to 29 recalls covering 13.8 million vehicles, a record high for the company. (The figure counts some vehicles more than once because they're being called back for multiple fixes.)

It's true that during the three full years when Akerson was at the helm, GM averaged just 1.02 million recalled vehicles globally per year. But GM concedes that many of the recalls now piling up should have been done years ago.