DETROIT — General Motors CEO Mary Barra apologized today for the deaths related to the company’s delayed recall of 1.6 million small cars, and named a new global safety director to help prevent such issues in the future.
In her first meeting with reporters since last month’s recall, Barra stopped short of saying the company would compensate families of those killed in crashes. But she said GM would do what’s right for its customers after it completes an internal investigation.
“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.
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She also says no one has been fired or disciplined because of the recall.
GM has been subject to intense criticism for not acting sooner to repair faulty ignition switches in certain models of Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and four other compact cars. GM has admitted it knew about the problem at least 11 years ago.
During an hour-long meeting with reporters, both Barra and Mark Reuss, GM’s product development chief, appeared composed. But they often refused to answer questions, saying they wanted to wait for the results of an internal investigation before giving details.
Barra said GM is looking through its database for more crash deaths that could be tied to the ignition switch problem. That number is likely to rise above 12 as the company and safety regulators review accident reports and consumer complaints.
Barra said it’s also likely she will testify before congressional committees investigating the company’s handling of the problem.
She also said that to her knowledge, the company has not provided any information to the Justice Department, which is investigating whether any laws were broken in the way GM handled the recall.
Also today, GM named a veteran company engineer, Jeff Boyer, as its new safety chief, placing a single person in charge of recalls and other safety issues.
“If there are any obstacles in his way, Jeff has the authority to clear them,” Barra said in a statement. “If he needs any additional resources, he will get them.”
On Feb. 13, GM announced the recall of more than 780,000 Cobalts and Pontiac G5s (model years 2005-2007). Two weeks later it added 842,000 Ion compacts (2003-2007), and Chevrolet HHR SUVs and Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky sports cars (2006-2007). All of the recalled cars have the same ignition switches.
The company said the ignition switches can wear from heavy, dangling keys. If the key chains are bumped or people drive on rough surfaces, the switches can suddenly change from the “run” position to “accessory” or “off.” That cuts off power-assisted steering and brakes and could cause drivers to lose control. Also, the air bags may not inflate in a crash and protect the driver and passengers.
The company is urging people not to put anything on their key rings until the switches are replaced.