(Adds former GM executive comments, details, background)
By Ben Klayman and Marilyn Thompson
DETROIT/WASHINGTON, April 22 General Motors' top
engineering executive, a longtime colleague and key lieutenant
of Chief Executive Mary Barra, is retiring in the automaker's
highest profile executive change since the massive recall of
vehicles with defective ignition switches linked to at least 13
John Calabrese has worked with Barra in various roles over
the past 15 years and has been GM vice president of global
engineering for the last three years.
In a reorganization announced on Tuesday, Calabrese's role
will split in two to improve vehicle safety, the automaker said.
Global product development chief Mark Reuss, to whom
Calabrese reports, said the engineering chief's exit was not
related to the recall of 2.6 million vehicles this year.
Calabrese, 55, will stay on through August to help with the
Company documents provided to congressional investigators
show Calabrese was apprised at least once of major developments
of an internal ignition switch probe that led to the recall this
year, but his role in the process is not clear, and GM declined
One former GM executive said Calabrese's exit likely
reflected Reuss putting his own team in place in the product
development operations rather than a move related to any role
Calabrese might have had in the recall.
"I rule out the notion that anyone was sacrificed," said the
former executive, who asked not to be identified discussing the
turnover. "As with any super big job, at some point you get to
pick your team."
The top engineer's departure follows the exit last week of
two senior vice presidents in charge of global human resources,
and global communications and public policy.
Barra last month appointed a global safety chief, GM veteran
Jeff Boyer, who reported to Calabrese. The company also shifted
Robert Ferguson, who is head of the Cadillac brand, back to
Washington to help steer the company's response to the recall
At the time, Barra was asked why Boyer reported to the
engineering chief, who might be part of an internal probe into
the recall. Barra said she had confidence in the engineering and
product development organization, declining to speculate on
where the internal probe could lead.
The No. 1 U.S. automaker said global vehicle engineering is
being split into two new organizations: global product
integrity, and global vehicle components and subsystems. The
company said it also more than doubled the number of people
assigned to investigate complaints about its vehicles.
GM has come under heavy criticism for not catching sooner
the defective ignition switch, which had been studied by
engineers in the company as early as 2001 but was not recalled
until the initial action in February this year.
On Monday, GM filed a motion in a U.S. court to enforce a
bar on lawsuits stemming from ignition defects in cars sold
before its 2009 bankruptcy as it fights proposed class action
litigation that seeks to set aside the restriction.
And outspoken Senator Richard Blumenthal said Congress
should call former GM CEOs to testify about the recall.
Reuss said on Tuesday that the restructuring will help GM
identify problems faster and was a direct result of what the
company found as it investigated how it failed to initially
catch the defective ignition switch. He said there will be
additional structural changes made to the company's product
development process, but did not provide any details.
Under the new structure, Reuss said most of those
responsible for vehicle safety will meet in one room every week,
including the heads of the two new organizations, and that group
of executives will report monthly to GM's board on safety
Ken Morris, currently executive director of global chassis
engineering, has been named vice president of the global product
integrity business, and global vehicle safety chief Boyer will
report to him. The organization will include vehicle, powertrain
and electrical systems engineering as well as vehicle
performance and supplier quality.
As part of Boyer's team, GM is adding 35 product
investigators to an existing 20 who can follow up any consumer
complaints to the company, its dealers or safety regulators, or
that result from lawsuits filed against the automaker. Reuss
said more investigators could be added if necessary.
"They are the data miners and the field investigators ...
empowered to actually be deployed to the accident site or
problem site or the dealership site, investigate the problem,
make decisions very quickly on what we do, if anything," he
Morris said the new structure will change how problems are
caught in vehicles before they are made. "This is one of the
fundamental differences that we're going to have going forward,
is connecting the dots on all the information that we gather and
not being silo-ed so that information doesn't get transferred
from one spot to another," he said.
Ken Kelzer, currently vice president of GM Europe powertrain
engineering, has been named vice president of the global vehicle
components business. His responsibility includes parts, advanced
vehicle development and other engineering initiatives.
Calabrese is an Illinois native who started as a GM summer
intern in 1979 and officially joined the automaker two years
After several engineering positions, Calabrese was named
director of global advanced purchasing in July 1998 and promoted
to executive director the following year. He returned to
engineering in October 2000 and was a leader for exterior,
interior, safety, powertrain and a Mexican regional engineering
GM launched an extensive internal investigation in July 2011
into a series of accidents in which airbags failed to deploy.
That eventually led to uncovering the ignition switch defect.
One undated GM document released by congressional
investigators, which appeared to be from late 2013 or early
2014, briefed Calabrese and another senior executive about the
ignition switch issue in the Chevrolet Cobalt, the model most
closely associated with the recall.
GM declined to say if Calabrese was part of a key group
which decided on the recall. The Executive Field Action Decision
Committee reviewed the internal probe of the switch in December
2013 and decided on Jan. 31, 2014, to conduct a safety recall
affecting about 650,000 vehicles.
The scope of the recall was expanded two more times as GM
discovered more models could have been built with the defective
part. After Reuters reported that the flawed ignition switch was
still widely available to consumers on the Internet, GM also
recalled the spare part from repair shops.
(Additional reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit; Editing by
Nick Zieminski and Peter Henderson)