General Motors Co. Chief Executive Mary Barra promised an “unvarnished” review of whether the automaker delayed a recall of a part that malfunctioned, leading to 13 traffic deaths.
Barr also moved Tuesday to calm worker concern about whether a federal safety investigation into the fatal crashes and a giant recall have hurt the automaker’s image.
In an email to GM employees, Barra said she is leading a team of senior executives that is monitoring the recall and the probe, making sure to provide federal regulators with “comprehensive information on this issue.”
GM has “launched an internal review to give us an unvarnished report on what happened. We will hold ourselves accountable and improve our processes so our customers do not experience this again,” wrote Barra, who became chief executive earlier this year.
Last month GM recalled more than 1.6 million vehicles because faulty ignition switches had caused at least 13 fatal crashes.
The recall covers the 2005-07 Chevrolet Cobalt, 2007 Pontiac G5, 2003-07 Saturn Ion, 2006-07 Chevrolet HHR, 2006-07 Pontiac Solstice and 2007 Saturn Sky.
The ignition switches in the recalled vehicles can be inadvertently turned from the “run” position to the “accessory” position while the car is being driven. When this happens, the engine shuts off and safety systems – including power steering, anti-lock brakes and air bags – are disabled. This has led to at least 31 crashes and the deaths.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration documents show that GM knew of the problem as far back as 2004 but failed to recall the vehicles or make changes in future models.
Safety experts have criticized both the automaker and NHTSA for not moving faster.
“This is a total failure of the recall system,” said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety. “Both GM and NHTSA bear responsibility.”
The NHTSA has launched an investigation to “determine whether GM properly followed the legal processes and requirements for reporting recalls.”
GM faces up to a $35 million fine.
Barra acknowledged questions about whether “the recall of these out-of-production vehicles might affect our company’s reputation or sales of our current models.”
“Our company’s reputation won’t be determined by the recall itself,” Barra wrote, “but by how we address the problem going forward.”