Published on March 19, 2014

GM creates global safety czar in response to recall crisis

(General Motors Co. photo)
Jeff Boyer, 58, has been with GM for 40 years.

By Mike Colias, Crain News Service

DETROIT (March 19, 2014) — General Motors Co. has created global safety czar position to “quickly identify and solve product safety issues,” as the company continues to grapple with a crisis touched off by last month’s recall of 1.6 million cars for a faulty ignition switch.

Jeff Boyer, 58, will become vice president of global vehicle safety, effective immediately, GM said in a statement March 18. The 40-year GM veteran will oversee all GM product recalls, as well as safety development of vehicle systems.

GM joins Ford Motor Co. as the only other major auto maker with a vice president of safety, according to an Automotive News listing of industry executives.

Mr. Boyer has been executive director of engineering operations and systems development since 2011. Before that, he was executive director of global interior engineering and safety performance, responsible for certification of GM vehicle safety and crashworthiness.

He will report to John Calabrese, GM’s global engineering chief, and will become a member of GM’s product development staff, led by Mark Reuss, GM’s head of global product development, the company said.

GM CEO Mary Barra said in a statement that Mr. Boyer will have full access to top GM executives and its board of directors, sending the message that GM’s top brass is redoubling its safety focus.

“This new role elevates and integrates our safety process under a single leader so we can set a new standard for customer safety with more rigorous accountability,” Ms. Barra said in the statement. “If there are any obstacles in his way, Jeff has the authority to clear them. If he needs any additional resources, he will get them.”

The announcement comes one day after GM announced three U.S. recalls covering 1.5 million full-sized vans, crossovers and Cadillac XTS models to fix flaws related to brakes and airbag wiring harnesses.

Those problems are unrelated to the ignition switch recall announced last month, which includes six models and 1.37 million U.S. cars from 2003-07 model years and has been linked to 12 deaths. GM has said that engineers discovered a problem as early as 2001, on a preproduction Saturn Ion.

The controversy over GM’s handling of the ignition-switch recall has snowballed quickly. Since late February, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), two congressional committees and the U.S. Department of Justice have begun investigating why it took so long for GM to recall the cars.

Early and difficult test

The crisis poses an early and difficult test for Ms. Barra, 52, who took over as CEO on Jan. 15 after three years as GM’s global product development chief.

The investigations and bad press threaten to mar GM’s reputation just as its turnaround from its 2009 bankruptcy gains steam, with the auto maker rolling out several hit products and racking up accolades for vehicle quality and ratings.

Mr. Boyer’s appointment appears to partly be an effort to show consumers, regulators and lawmakers that GM is serious about determining how it let the ignition-switch problem linger and preventing future safety lapses.

“Something went wrong with our process in this instance and terrible things happened,” Ms. Barra said in a videotaped message to employees, released by GM on March 17.

Barclays Capital analyst Brian Johnson said the additional recalls “increases the likelihood of market share erosion” as the negative headlines take a toll on GM’s reputation.

Mr. Johnson said: “We see some silver lining in that the new regime is proactively trying to address the issues.”

BIOGRAPHY: JEFF BOYER, GM Vice President, Global Vehicle Safety

Jeff Boyer was named General Motors vice president, Global Vehicle Safety, in March 2014. In this newly created role, Mr. Boyer has global responsibility for the safety development of GM vehicles and systems; confirmation and validation of safety performance; and post-sale safety activities including recalls.

Mr. Boyer’s appointment integrates GM’s safety organization under a single point of leadership, and will set a new standard for customer safety with more rigorous accountability. He will provide direct and ongoing access to leadership on critical customer safety issues, including frequent updates to Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra, the Global Product Development teams and GM’s Board of Directors.

Mr. Boyer reports to John Calabrese, vice president, Global Vehicle Engineering, and is a member of the Global Product Development staff led by Executive Vice President Mark Reuss.

Since June 2011, Mr. Boyer was executive director, Engineering Operations and System Development, where he led business operations, metrics, global virtual design process, program content management, engineering systems development and productivity initiatives.

Previously, he was executive director for Global Interior Engineering and Safety Performance. He also was GM North America executive director for Vehicle Structure and Safety Integration, where he was responsible for the performance and certification of vehicle safety and crashworthiness systems.

During his nearly 40-year GM career, Mr. Boyer has held a wide range of engineering, safety and leadership positions in regional and global programs, with experience in vehicle systems and vehicle program management. He also spent two years in GM’s purchasing organization as an executive director, Advance Purchasing.

He is a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and was GM’s representative to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers as Vehicle Safety and Harmonization Policy Committee Chair for 2009.

Mr. Boyer joined GM in 1975 as a co-op student in Warren, Ohio. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Kettering University in 1979 and an MBA from Michigan State University in 1993. He and his wife, Dianne, have three sons.

This report appeared on the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.

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