General Motors named a new vehicle safety chief on Tuesday after CEO Mary Barra confessed “terrible things” had happened at the company and recalled another 1.5m cars amid investigations into a series of fatal crashes.
Jeff Boyer, a GM veteran who has been with the company for more than 40 years, has been made vice-president of global vehicle safety, effective immediately.
GM, America’s largest car manufacturer, has now recalled 3m cars over a series of issues that the company has linked to at least 12 deaths. The company said Boyer’s task would be to “quickly identify and resolve product safety issues.” There is a widening federal investigation into the matter, and the company is also conducting its own probe into what went wrong.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Barra said there would be “no sacred cows” in GM’s investigations. “Clearly lives have been lost, and families have been affected, and that is very serious,” Barra said. “We want to extend our deep condolences for everyone’s losses … We formulated a senior leadership team to handle this and that team has a meeting or a call on a daily basis. We want to learn from this incident and make any changes we need to make so that we can improve.”
Barra’s public comments come after she told staff in a video: “Something went wrong with our process in this instance, and terrible things happened. As a member of the GM family and as a mom with a family of my own, this really hits home for me.
“We are putting the customer first, and that is guiding every decision we make. That is how we want today’s GM to be judged. How we handle the recall will be an important test of that commitment.
“But it cannot stop there. We need to continue on the path of putting the customer first in everything we do. It’s not something that only gets decided by senior leadership. We all have to own it … and we’re using this opportunity to change much more about our business.”
GM’s woes mounted Monday as it disclosed three recalls that together encompass nearly 1.5 vehicles, the latest in a series that the company said would cost it $300m in the first quarter.
The company said the trio of recalls had come as “a result of Mary Barra’s request for a comprehensive internal safety review” following a separate recall last week of another 1.6 million cars due to ignition switch issues.
The company’s handling of the original ignition-switch recall is now the subject of lawsuits and federal investigations. According to internal documents, GM knew of a switch problem in some of its vehicles as early as 2001 but only recalled the cars last month. The House energy and commerce committee said last week that it would launch an inquiry into the slow recall.
Monday’s recalls relate to issues with seat-mounted side airbags in 1.18 million full-size crossover SUVs including 2009-2013 Chevrolet Traverse, 2008-2013 Buick Enclave, 2008-2013 GMC Acadia and 2008-2010 Saturn Outlook.
GM says the danger happens if drivers ignore the airbag warning light on their instrument panel. If drivers do not address the issue, it can lead to a wiring failure and “non-deployment of the side impact restraints”.
The company also issued a recall of 63,900 2013 and 2014 Cadillac XTS full-size sedans over a plug in the brake system that can come loose, allowing corrosion and increasing the likelihood of overheating and an engine-compartment fire.
The third recall relates to 303,000 Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana full-size vans in which the material covering the passenger-side air bag does not meet federal standards. The company said the risk only applied to passengers who are not wearing safety belts.
Michelle Krebs, an independent auto analyst, said the latest recalls would further damage GM’s brand just as the company had appeared to be turning a corner. Barra’s appointment in January was heralded as a pivotal moment for the company. She is the first woman to head a major car company and the first auto-executive to run the company since it emerged from bankruptcy in 2009.
“I think they are trying to send the message that this is the new GM, there will be no delays and they will tackle their issues,” said Krebs. “It is a hit on their reputation, though. GM was seen as having quality issues, clearly they have improved but this is a blow.”
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