General Motors CEO Takes Charge of Recall and Safety Issues

Mary T. Barra, who has been a chief executive of General Motors for just months, says she has personally taken charge of the company’s recall of 1.6 million cars, and she pledged to explain why it has taken the company more than 10 years to correct an ignition switch defect linked to at least a dozen deaths.

During a one-hour meeting on Tuesday, Barra told reporters the company’s “goal is to make sure that something like this never happens again.” According to The New York Times, Barra said it was late December when she learned that internal safety committees were analyzing defects in the Chevrolet Cobalt.  This is more than a month before the company decided to recall the Cobalt and other cars and it is earlier than the company said she was told.

GM now faces an array of investigations by government bodies and safety regulators, including a Justice Department criminal investigation into whether GM complied with laws requiring timely disclosure of vehicle safety problems. The House and Senate both plan to hold hearings on the recall and safety issues, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has given GM 107 questions about the recall that must be answered, under oath, by April 3.  At issue in all the investigations is why it took GM more than a decade to reveal that faulty ignition switches in many of its small cars could unexpectedly turn off if bumped or weighed down by a heavy key ring, cutting off engine power and disabling air bags, according to the Times.

GM has acknowledged that the switch defect is linked to 31 crashes and 13 deaths, but the Center for Auto Safety is analyzing data on 303 deaths in crashes involving the recalled models in which air bags did not deploy. Last month’s massive recall includes 2005-7 Chevrolet Cobalts, 2003-7 Saturn Ions, 2006-7 Chevrolet HHRs and Pontiac Solstices, and the 2007 Saturn Skys and Pontiac G5s. These models are no longer being made, the Times reports.

When asked on Tuesday, Barra said it was safe to drive the recalled cars until repairs can be made if the driver keeps only the car key on the key ring, according to the Times. GM engineers told her they would let family members drive the cars, she said. The company has not provided any details of the fatal crashes, nor would Barra speak of any plans to reach out to families of crash victims.


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