GM CEO says only learned of defective cars in late January

Tue Mar 18, 2014 4:33pm EDT
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By Ben Klayman

DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Co Chief Executive Mary Barra said on Tuesday that she did not learn details about defective GM cars linked to 12 deaths until January 31, just two weeks after she took over as CEO and nearly 13 years after GM engineers first documented problems.

The automaker last month recalled more than 1.6 million cars from 2003 to 2007 to replace faulty ignition switches that could cause the engine to shut down and turn off the airbags. The first death linked to the defect occurred in Maryland in July 2005.

"I am very sorry for the loss of life that has occurred," Barra said at a roundtable meeting with reporters on Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday, GM named a 40-year company veteran to the new position of vehicle safety chief, responsible for product safety issues including recalls. Jeff Boyer, 58, ranks three rungs below Barra but will brief the GM CEO on the company's push to improve its recall process.

Barra said she learned in late December, when she was still head of GM's global product development organization, that there was a review of the Chevrolet Cobalt, one of the cars subsequently involved in the recall. She added she was not told the details of the review at that time.

"Clearly, this took too long," she said of the lengthy internal engineering probe of the defective switches, which GM first learned about in 2001 and initially addressed in dealer service bulletins in 2005.

The first replacement switches will be available for customers on April 7, and GM plans to have enough parts for every recalled car by "the October time frame," Barra said.

Another GM executive, Mark Reuss, said at the same roundtable meeting on Tuesday that he called Barra on January 31 after GM executives decided to recall the Cobalt and other models with the defective switches. Reuss, who was president of GM North America, succeeded Barra in mid-January as global product development chief.   Continued...

General Motors Co's new chief executive Mary Barra addresses the media during a roundtable meeting with journalists in Detroit, Michigan January 23, 2014. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio/Pool