General Motors creates new safety organization in wake of recall

Barra announced that she's creating another group within the company that will monitor new products for safety issues.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra continued to make changes Tuesday, which she said would help lead the embattled company out of a crisis caused by deadly defects in some of its vehicles.

On the eve of the New York Auto Show, Barra announced that she's creating another group within the company, the "global product integrity organization," that will monitor new products for safety issues. Mark Reuss, the company's vice president of global product development, will head the new group.

"This is a group that, may parts of it, will be dedicated to reviewing products going through the pipeline now, and in the future," said Barra who was making her first public appearance since testifying before Congress two weeks ago.

The group will work in tandem with Jeff Boyer, who was appointed last month to the newly created position of vice president of global vehicle safety. Barra touted several internal initiatives she's made at General Motors in the wake of the widening recall crisis – which has affected more than 2.5 million cars and caused at least 31 car accidents – including Boyer's appointment.

But much like she did in her testimony before two Congressional committees, Barra wouldn't answer questions on whether the company would create a fund to compensate victims. Nor would she answer whether GM would support new laws that required automakers to report more information to federal regulators, saying she needed to wait for an internal investigation to be completed.
One day earlier, Barra ousted two high-ranking executives from their positions, including Selim Bingol, the former senior vice president of communication. The moderator at an automotive forum, hosted by the National Auto Dealers Association and J.D. Power, poked at Barra's initial explanation of the move: "There's a PR crisis, you replace the PR chief. But that has nothing to do with the crisis. Really?"

Barra ousted two high-ranking executives from their positions, including Selim Bingol.

"He's moving on to pursue other interests," she said, "but beyond that, that's an issue between employee and company."

Among other updates provided Tuesday, Barra said the company's work with Kenneth Feinberg, a lawyer renowned for working as a mediator between victims and companies, remains on track for some sort of conclusion by the end of May.

On suspending two engineers last week whose work was with the heart of the ignition-switch defect, Barra said, "Let me be really clear, these are real people with real careers, and I'm personally dedicated to making sure we have true facts of what happened ... We agonized over that decision, but we thought that was the right thing for the individuals and right thing for the company at this time."

Four days after an email released by the House Energy & Commerce Committee showed that a chief investigator at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had described GM as "slow to act" on at least six safety-related issues between 2011 and 2013, Barra said the company had improved its efforts to comply with regulators.

The company did not answer all questions posed by NHTSA investigators by an April 3 deadline.

"I'm getting very good feedback on receptiveness with what they're seeing now," Barra said. "Jeff Boyer is having regular sessions with NHTSA, and they've made some suggestions on how we can improve, and we'll implement them immediately."

Yet General Motors still has not complied with a special order issued by NHTSA. The company did not answer all questions posed by investigators by an April 3 deadline, and continues to accrue a $7,000 per day fine.

NHTSA is one of several federal entities conducting an investigation of the company, which knew of problems with the flawed parts as early as 2001 but did not announce a recall until this February. A House Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, and the Senate Commerce Committee held hearings in early April, and the Department of Justice has indicated it will probe potential criminal wrongdoing.

On Tuesday, Barra said she had no knowledge of whether the DOJ had requested documents from the automaker, nor knowledge of whether any had been turned over.

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