By Mike Colias, Crain News Service
GENEVA (March 4, 2014) — General Motors Co. President Dan Ammann said today that GM wants to convey a message of transparency to its customers as its new executive team grapples with the recall of 1.6 million vehicles to fix faulty ignition switches.
"This is a new leadership team," Mr. Ammann told reporters on the sidelines of the auto show in Geneva. "We're aiming to do things in the right way."
Mr. Ammann said GM is being "proactive" and "transparent" in its response to the recall of the Chevrolet, Pontiac, Saturn and Opel models. Last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began investigating whether GM acted fast enough to recall the cars after identifying the flaw, which can unexpectedly shut off engines and disable safety systems, a problem that has been linked to 31 crashes and 13 front-seat deaths.
"We're doing everything we can to work with our customers and our dealers to get everything as straight as we can," said Mr. Ammann, the highest-ranking GM executive to publicly comment on the issue since GM announced the initial recall on Feb. 13. GM expanded the recall last week to include 842,103 more vehicles globally.
Mr. Ammann declined to elaborate on the NHTSA investigation or say whether the cost of the recall would affect GM's first-quarter earnings. GM said it would be sending letters to owners next week, with the first parts available in early April.
Overall, GM is recalling 1.6 million vehicles worldwide, including 1.37 million in the U.S. The U.S. models include Chevy Cobalts and Pontiac G5s from the 2005 to 2007 model years; Saturn Ion compacts from model years 2003 to 2007; and Chevy HHR SUVs and the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky sports cars from model years 2006 and 2007.
A heavy key ring or jarring from rough pavement can move the ignition out of the run position, cutting off the engine. If that happens, the front air bags may not work, GM said.
The recall has emerged as an early test of GM's new executive team, led by CEO Mary Barra, who took over in January. GM has come under fire from safety advocates and others for not recalling the cars despite knowing for nearly a decade about problems with the ignition.
Amid mounting criticism, GM last week submitted a chronological report to NHTSA that said the company first learned of the engine cutoff problem in 2004, around the time the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt went on sale.
Since it announced the recall, GM has sought to distance itself from how the pre-bankruptcy company handled the problem, while insisting that today's GM would have done better.
In a statement last week, GM North America President Alan Batey said the company is "deeply sorry" for its response to the defect, which he said was "not as robust as it should have been."
This report appeared on autonews.com, the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.