DETROIT May 12 General Motors Co has
reassigned an executive who dealt with U.S. safety regulators
probing defective ignition switches linked to at least 13
deaths, as part of a restructuring meant to improve vehicle
safety, the automaker said on Monday.
M. Carmen Benavides, director of field product
investigations and evaluations and an executive who has worked
closely with U.S. safety regulators in Washington, has been
shifted to a new job in the Detroit automaker's safety group, GM
spokesman Greg Martin said.
Benavides, who is now director of safety improvement
initiatives, was replaced by Brian Latouf.
Benavides' name is on many documents in which GM responded
to questions from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration, including several in the recall of the faulty
ignition switches. She also received an email last summer in
which a top NHTSA official called GM "slow to communicate" and
"slow to act" on details and recalls.
The Detroit News reported the reassignment last week.
Martin said the move was unrelated to the ignition switch
recall and part of executive changes announced on April 22 that
included splitting engineering into two groups and the
retirement of engineering chief John Calabrese. GM said at the
time that the restructuring was meant to improve vehicle safety
"Brian and Carmen will be undertaking important roles to
support Jeff Boyer," Martin said, referring to GM's new global
GM global product development chief Mark Reuss said last
month more changes in the structure of his organization, which
includes responsibility for engineering and recalls, were
GM has recalled 2.6 million cars, including Chevrolet
Cobalts and Saturn Ions, because the defective ignition switches
are prone to being jostled into accessory mode while the cars
were moving. That would shut off engines and disable power
steering, power brakes and airbags.
In addition to its own internal probe of how it handled the
problem switches, which company engineers first noticed in 2001,
the automaker is facing investigations by NHTSA, Congress, the
Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission
and a number of states.
NHTSA has voiced frustration with GM to Benavides in the
past. Frank Borris, head of NHTSA's Office of Defects
Investigation, said in a July 2013 email to Benavides the
company was more difficult to work with than other automakers,
citing six instances in which the agency disagreed with GM on
safety issues. It was the same email in which he criticized the
automaker as "slow to communicate" and "slow to act."
GM has placed two engineers linked to the faulty switch on
paid leave as its internal probe continues. In addition to the
exit of Calabrese, long-time engineer Jim Federico, who oversaw
an earlier internal probe of the problems caused by the
defective part, also recently retired. Federico joined
motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson Inc as vice president of
GM has said the two retirements were not related to the
defective ignition switch.
(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Paul Simao)