DETROIT – The top executive of General Motors apologized for deaths linked to the delayed recall of 1.6 million small cars, saying the company took too long to tell owners to bring the cars in for repairs.
Faced with a crisis just months into the job, CEO Mary Barra has put herself front and center in the company’s efforts to take responsibility for mishandling a defect with ignition switches in small cars – and to ward off a threat to its sales and reputation. She named a new head of global safety one day after telling employees that GM is pushing to resolve safety issues more quickly.
Barra, who met Tuesday with reporters for the first time since last month’s recall, stopped short of saying the company would compensate families of those killed in crashes caused by faulty ignition switches. But she said GM, whose Allen County assembly plant produces the GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado pickups, would do what’s right for customers after it completes an internal investigation, which she expects to take about seven months to finish.
I am very sorry for the loss of life that occurred, and we will take every step to make sure this never happens again, she said.
Barra is trying to distance the GM she now runs from the pre-bankruptcy company that buried the problem in bureaucracy. The company has acknowledged it learned about the problem switches at least 11 years ago, yet it failed to recall the cars until last month. Barra is likely to testify next month before two congressional committees investigating the recall. The Justice Department also is investigating whether any laws were broken in the way GM handled the recall.
Barra, who became CEO on Jan. 15, said Tuesday that she found out about the switch problem in late December.
GM has to protect its safety reputation to keep sales from falling and profits from slipping. The company has been profitable for 16 straight quarters since emerging from bankruptcy protection in 2009.
Barra said no one at GM has been fired or disciplined because of the recall delays, but Mark Reuss, the company’s product development chief who also spoke with reporters, said appointing a safety chief is only the beginning.
This is the first change of things that need to change, Reuss said.