GM review finds no more big problems; CEO expects only small changes
DETROIT — A thorough review of General Motors' safety issues is nearing completion and hasn't turned up any more serious problems, the company's CEO said on Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters before the company's annual meeting, Mary Barra said personnel changes related to a deadly ignition switch problem are finished. The company ousted 15 workers last week whom an outside attorney blamed for failing to act on the problem. Five employees were disciplined.
Former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas issued a report that blamed an inefficient corporate structure and misconduct or poor decisions by some employees for allowing a deadly defect in an ignition switch to go undisclosed for more than a decade. GM this year has recalled 2.6 million small cars with the faulty switches. They have been blamed for more than 50 crashes and at least 13 deaths.
Barra said GM may “tweak the structure here or there” but she doesn't expect major changes.
GM began reviewing past safety issues after the ignition switch problem became public, resulting in a total of 15.8 million recalled vehicles in North America. Barra says the review has been extensive, but said the ignition switch issue was a “unique series of mistakes” made by the company over many years.
“I have nothing to conclude that there's anything like this,” she said of the ignition switch recall. “We've been digging pretty deep.”
Barra said there are likely to be a few more recalls, but those related to the review should be announced by the end of June.
Board Chairman Tim Solso gave Barra a vote of confidence, saying the board is pleased with her work and that she and her team “will lead General Motors to make the necessary changes.”
GM has hired attorney Kenneth Feinberg to come up with a way to compensate families of those killed and people injured in crashes caused by the faulty switches. Barra wouldn't say how much the compensation would cost, saying it was up to Feinberg. She said compensating people is the right thing to do for GM customers, the company and for shareholders.
Shareholders voted for the company-nominated slate of 12 directors, including for the first time a representative from the United Auto Workers union. Former UAW Vice President Joe Ashton was among those elected.
Two shareholder-sponsored issues failed, one allowing stockholders to vote all of their shares for one director, and another permanently separating the board chairman from the CEO position.
About eight protesters stood outside GM's headquarters ahead of the meeting. Ken Rimer, who lost his step-daughter in a 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt accident in Wisconsin, and Laura Christian, who lost her daughter in a 2005 Cobalt crash in Maryland, said they didn't intend to meet with shareholders, but wanted their message to be seen and heard.
“I believe the shareholders need to know that they may be the key to helping hold GM to a safety standard rather than a profit culture. If they can see the human side of this, I think it will help all of us,” Christian said.
Breaking into tears, Christian said she was trying not to look at GM's imposing skyscraper.
“I can't stand this place. To me, it's a physical representation of putting profits before our kids,” she said.
It's uncertain that shareholders got the protesters' message. Of the more than two dozen shareholders in attendance, none asked a question related to the recall.