The top executive of General Motors has apologised for deaths linked to the delayed recall of 1.6 million small cars, saying the company took too long to tell owners to bring the cars in for repairs.
Faced with a crisis just months into the job, CEO Mary Barra has put herself front and centre in the company's efforts to take responsibility for mishandling a defect with ignition switches in small cars, and to ward off a threat to its sales and reputation. She named a new head of global safety, one day after telling employees that GM was pushing to resolve safety issues more quickly.
Barra stopped short of saying the company would compensate families of those killed in crashes caused by faulty ignition switches. But she said GM would do what was right for customers after it completed an internal probe. "I am very sorry for the loss of life that occurred, and we will take every step to make sure this never happens again," she said.
Barra is trying to distance the GM she now runs from the pre-bankruptcy company that buried the problem in bureaucracy. The company has acknowledged it learned about the problem switches at least 11 years ago, yet it failed to recall the cars until last month. Barra is likely to testify next month before two congressional committees investigating the recall. There, she is sure to face questions about what went wrong at the old GM.
The Justice Department is also investigating whether any laws were broken in the way GM handled the recall.
Barra, who became CEO in January, said she found out about the switch problem in December.
She said GM was looking through its database for more crash deaths that could be tied to the ignition switch problem. That number is likely to rise above the 12 cited by the company.
The company said the ignition switches could wear from heavy, dangling keys. If the key chains were bumped or people drove on rough surfaces, the switches could suddenly change from the "run" position to "accessory" or "off." That cuts off power-assisted steering and brakes and could cause drivers to lose control. Also, the air bags may not inflate.