General Motors chief executive Mary Barra announced Tuesday the creation of a new team to enhance safety in the wake of an ignition-recall scandal that has engulfed the company.
Barra said the new product-integrity team aimed to ensure that future technical problems are addressed and resolved quickly. The automaker has come in for heavy criticism over its response to the ignition-switch problem, which has been tied to 13 deaths.
The new product-integrity team will be part of the global product development organization headed by Mark Reuss and will include Jeff Boyer, who was tapped in March to serve as head of global vehicle safety in another response to the recall.
“This new way of developing vehicles will provide the highest levels of safety, quality and customer service and ensure that a situation like the ignition-switch recall doesn’t happen again,” Barra said.
She said part of the goal of the new unit will be to ensure strong safety as cars employ ever-more sophisticated electrical systems. The U.S.’ largest automaker wants to have a “very streamlined” approach to future recalls.
Barra’s comments came during a question-and-answer session at an industry conference hosted by J.D. Power and the National Auto Dealers Association and mark her first public appearance since a pair of bruising hearings on Capitol Hill.
Lawmakers say the automaker’s slow response to the crisis suggest a “culture of cover-up” and are likely criminal. The Department of Justice has launched a probe of the matter.
The faulty ignitions can abruptly switch into “accessory” or “off” position while in drive, especially when the car is jolted. That can turn off the electrical systems, including safety airbags, preventing them from inflating in a collision.
The ignition problem was detected at the pre-production stage as early as 2001, but the company waited until February this year to begin recalling the affected vehicles.
Barra agreed that the recall had taken too long, but said she acted as quickly as she could. She became chief executive in January.
“It was putting all the clues together,” she said. “When we realized it, we brought it forward.”
GM has appointed former U.S. attorney Anton Valukas to investigate why it took so long for the company to recall the vehicles.
Barra said her first priority is to complete the recall of the 2.6 million vehicles affected by the ignition-switch problem. She insisted the vehicles are safe to drive.
The cars have had “extensive” testing, she said.
“We are confident the vehicles are safe.”
[Image via Agence France-Presse]