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Second GM engineering exec retires in recall aftermath

| Tuesday, May 6, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

DETROIT — A high-ranking General Motors engineer is leaving the company amid its delayed recall of small cars with faulty ignition switches.

Jim Federico, who most recently headed safety, vehicle performance and testing labs, is retiring to end almost 36 years with the company. GM said he's leaving on his own to work outside the auto industry.

Federico was GM's highest-ranking executive with safety in his title in February, when the company began recalling 2.6 million older-model small cars to replace the defective ignition switches. He was the chief engineer for global small cars in 2010 and was involved in an internal investigation into the faulty switches.

The switches can unexpectedly move out of the “run” position, shutting off the engine and disabling the power-assisted steering and brakes, and the air bags. GM says the problem has been linked to 13 deaths, but one trial lawyer says he has 53 wrongful death lawsuits against GM because of the problem.

The company has admitted knowing about the faulty switches for more than a decade, yet it didn't issue any recalls until this year. Both houses of Congress, the Justice Department and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are investigating why it took GM so long to act.

Federico reported to global engineering chief John Calabrese, who retired last month after 33 years at GM. Both Calabrese and Federico reported up the chain of command to CEO Mary Barra, who was in charge of safety when she was head of global product development from Feb. 1, 2011, until she took the top job in January of this year.

Depositions taken in a Georgia wrongful death lawsuit, and emails given to congressional committees by GM, show that Federico was in charge of a 2012 investigation into the switches and held meetings to get updates from his team. At some point, he was pulled off the team, and it was given a different leader, Gay Kent, according to a deposition.

Kent is director of vehicle safety operations and crashworthiness and reported to Federico during the past two years, according to the organizational chart.

The outcome of the investigation was unclear, and GM hasn't said why it took more than a year for the company to start the recalls.

Federico's retirement is the latest in a string of personnel changes at GM since the recall crisis began.

In addition to Calabrese, the company has suspended two engineers with pay who worked on the ignition switches. The human resources and public relations chiefs have each left the company.

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