DETROIT -- Days after taking the top job at General Motors in mid-January, Mary Barra insisted there would be "no right or left turns" in the resurgent automaker's path.
Instead, it has been a U-turn.
GM's recall crisis has delivered a swift and dramatic jolt to a company that was in celebration mode just a few months ago. This year was to mark the end of the Government Motors era and the start of a new one, amid admiration for Barra as the first female CEO of a global automaker. A recent string of hit products and accolades for vehicle quality promised to help polish Chevrolet and Cadillac. Barra's new executive team vowed to continue remaking GM as a more nimble, less bureaucratic place.
But two days of blistering hearings before lawmakers last week, which included allegations of criminal misconduct and admonishments over Old GM culture, were a sobering reminder of how far off course GM's year has gone.
Now lying in GM's path are several challenges that threaten to sap the company's resources, hurt its reputation and distract Barra's new management team:
- The recall of 7 million cars globally in just the first three months of 2014 is equal to GM's total of the past four years combined. The prospect of more recalls looms as Barra promises more vigilance on safety.
- GM last week called in disaster-response lawyer Kenneth Feinberg to assess possible victim compensation, which threatens to keep in the headlines stories of young people killed in Chevy Cobalts and Saturn Ions with faulty ignition switches, which are linked to 13 deaths.
- A steady stream of unanswered questions and allegations of a criminal cover-up are likely to continue flowing from various government probes, including GM's responses last week to a battery of questions from regulators. Barra frustrated lawmakers by declining to answer specific questions until a GM-commissioned investigation is complete. That's likely to earn her a trip back to Washington once she has answers -- which she said still could be two months away.