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DETROIT — General Motors Co. Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra, speaking to the media for the first time about the recall of 1.6 million small cars, personally apologized for “everything that has happened” and extended condolences to the families affected.
“I want to start by saying again how sorry I am personally and how sorry General Motors is for what has happened,” Ms. Bar-ra said. “Clearly lives have been lost and families are affected, and that is very serious. We want to just extend our deep condolences for everyone’s losses.”
Ms. Barra said it “took too long” to recall the cars that stalled and killed 12 people. Earlier Tuesday she appointed a new safety chief to ensure defects get a more timely resolution. “Our goal is that something like this will never happen again.”
Ms. Barra said it is likely she will testify before two congressional committees investigating the company’s handling of the problem, probably in early April.
Tuesday’s meeting with reporters was part of Ms. Barra’s damage control effort as she tries to distance GM from the pre-bankruptcy company that buried the problem in bureaucracy. GM has admitted knowing about the problem switches for at least 11 years, yet it failed to recall the cars until last month.
GM has to protect its safety reputation to keep sales from falling and cutting into earnings. The company has been profitable for 16 straight quarters since emerging from bankruptcy protection in 2009.
Ms. Barra said no one at GM has been fired or disciplined because of the recall delays. She said she first learned about an analysis of the stalling cars in December, weeks before she became CEO, and that she was informed of the decision to recall cars on Jan. 31.
What Ms. Barra and others at GM knew and when is the goal of the company’s internal investigation into why the automaker took so long to recall 1.6 million Cobalts and other small cars. The replacement of ignition switches was announced last month, years after complaints started that the autos could switch off if the ignition switch was bumped or driven with a heavy key chain.
Ms. Barra said key steps in fixing the GM system for recalls were creation of a global vehicle safety position and promotion of a veteran engineering executive, Jeff Boyer, to run it. Mr. Boyer joined GM in 1974. He will have global responsibility for identifying and resolving product-safety issues, Ms. Barra said. She said she has known Mr. Boyer since the early 1980s and expects him to change the process.
“Jeff is a passionate safety zealot,” said Mark Reuss, GM product development chief.