The automaker last month recalled more than 1.6 million cars from
2003 to 2007 to replace faulty ignition switches that could cause
the engine to shut down and turn off the airbags. The first death
linked to the defect occurred in Maryland in July 2005.
"I am very sorry for the loss of life that has occurred," Barra said
at a roundtable meeting with reporters on Tuesday.
Also on Tuesday, GM named a 40-year company veteran to the new
position of vehicle safety chief, responsible for product safety
issues including recalls. Jeff Boyer, 58, ranks three rungs below
Barra but will brief the GM CEO on the company's push to improve its
Barra said she learned in late December, when she was still head of
GM's global product development organization, that there was a
review of the Chevrolet Cobalt, one of the cars subsequently
involved in the recall. She added she was not told the details of
the review at that time.
"Clearly, this took too long," she said of the lengthy internal
engineering probe of the defective switches, which GM first learned
about in 2001 and initially addressed in dealer service bulletins in
The first replacement switches will be available for customers on
April 7, and GM plans to have enough parts for every recalled car by
"the October time frame," Barra said.
Another GM executive, Mark Reuss, said at the same roundtable
meeting on Tuesday that he called Barra on January 31 after GM
executives decided to recall the Cobalt and other models with the
defective switches. Reuss, who was president of GM North America,
succeeded Barra in mid-January as global product development chief.
Barra said after she learned of the problem, GM's board was
Both Barra and Reuss said they had never heard of the issue during
their earlier jobs with GM before it came up in January.
READY TO TESTIFY
Barra said she is prepared to testify about the recall at U.S.
congressional hearings in Washington. She also emphasized that there
are "no sacred cows" in the company's internal investigation.
She declined to address directly questions about whether GM plans to
set up a trust fund for crash victims. Some safety advocates have
urged the company to establish a $1 billion trust fund to take care
of those affected.
Barra also said GM has not contacted families of the 12 victims,
preferring to wait until the company's internal probe is completed
in "probably a few months." But she promised the company would take
action once details of probe emerged.
"Until the investigation is done, I won't know who knew what when,"
Barra said, adding that no executive had been disciplined or fired
related to the defective ignition switches.
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Barra said she was not aware if GM had forwarded any information to
the U.S. Department of Justice, which has opened a criminal probe of
the automaker. She added that senior executives meet daily or talk
by telephone about the recall.
Barra said her goals are twofold: "To repair every single one of
these vehicles," and "to make sure this problem never happens
again." She said GM intends to fix every car, even those resold
Reuss said GM feels it has covered all of the vehicles affected by
the faulty switch, and Barra later added that the affected cars were
safe to drive if owners used a key ring with only the key on it.
Barra added that GM may use its OnStar in-vehicle communication
system to contact customers about recalls going forward.
She also said that the new safety chief, Boyer, had "complete
authority" to make changes in the safety and recall process. GM
wants Boyer to improve its recall process, helping it identify
defects sooner and repair cars faster, but the core process
involving a team of engineers and other experts recommending a
safety campaign will not change, a spokesman said.
Boyer was not a chief engineer on any of the recalled cars, but
worked on interiors including some in the recalled cars, the
spokesman said. Boyer focused on improving interior appearance and
functionality, but did not work on electrical parts or mechanical
components like the ignition switch.
Asked why Boyer reports to engineering chief John Calabrese, who
might be part of the company's internal probe, Barra said she had
confidence in GM's vehicle engineering and product development
organization. She declined to speculate on where the internal probe
On Monday, GM announced three more recalls affecting another 1.75
million newer-model vehicles for unrelated issues, saying the impact
of the defective ignition switches had sped up the company's recall
GM shares closed 1.6 percent higher at $35.17 on the New York Stock
Exchange on Tuesday. Last week, the shares fell about 10 percent.
(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Detroit; editing by
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