General Motors CEO Mary Barra spoke publicly for the first time yesterday since the automaker recalled 1.6 million vehicles over faulty ignition switches. Barra apologized for the deaths related to the recall and vowed to change the company’s recall processes, which may contributed to the recall only being announced now, when GM had potentially known about the problem for over 10 years.
“Clearly this took too long,” Barra told reporters in a press conference. GM records reveal the automaker knew about the faulty ignition switches as far back as 2001, during the development stages of the Saturn Ion. Barra, however, was not made aware of the potentially deadly problem until December of 2013. She says she was not informed of how serious the problem was until Jan. 31, the same day product head Mark Reuss informed her his team had decided to issue a recall for 2005-07 Cobalts.
“We will fix our process,” the recently appointed CEO pledged.
Barra appointed a vice president in charge of safety, an entirely new position, as the first stage of its revamped recall process. Jeff Boyer is effective in the position immediately, and will participate in meetings with Reuss and the rest of the product development team weekly. Boyer will also report to Barra on a monthly basis.
In the conference, Barra echoed her remarks in a video statement released yesterday, apologizing for the deaths which were a result of the ignition switches and vowing to make sure a similar situation doesn’t arise again.
“I take full responsibility for the work going forward,” Barra said. “Our goal is something like this never happens again.”
Barra said GM should learn the details from a Congressional hearing later this week, with hearings before the U.S. House of Representatives commencing sometime in April.
“If asked to testify I will,” Barra said. “Likely it will be me.”
But GM’s CEO would not take responsibility for any accidents or deaths which occurred pre-bankruptcy, nor would she commit to setting up a victim’s fund for those killed in recalled vehicles.
“Right now our focus is on the customers 100%, to make sure we repair every single one of these vehicles,” she said when asked about a victim’s fund. Barra said once an internal investigation has been complete, GM “will do what’s right.”
GM is facing lawsuits which claim it was fraudulent to ignore existing liabilities after it had been pulled out of bankruptcy if the company knew of a defect which could lead to fatalities. GM is not identifying those 12 individuals who have died post-bankruptcy as a result of the ignition switches.
Reuss and Barra both remained adamant that GM will fix its recall process and be honest with what is found during the internal probe, which investigators hope will reveal what was known about the recall and how it could have been used to make a decision sooner.