* CEO says she is "very sorry for the loss of life"
* Barra knew of Cobalt review in late Dec. but lacked
* Replacement switches available April, enough to fix all
cars by Oct
* Barra prepared to testify before Congress
* GM names new vehicle safety chief, responsible for recalls
By Ben Klayman
DETROIT, March 18 General Motors Co Chief
Executive Mary Barra said on Tuesday that she did not learn
details about defective GM cars linked to 12 deaths until Jan.
31, just two weeks after she took over as CEO and nearly 13
years after GM engineers first documented problems.
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
"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 recall process.
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 2005.
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 Jan. 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
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.
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 several times.
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
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
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 could lead.
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 process.
GM shares closed 1.6 percent higher at $35.17 on the New
York Stock Exchange on Tuesday. Last week, the shares fell about