General Motors CEO Mary Barra has appointed executive Jeff Boyer to the newly created position of Vice President, Global Vehicle Safety. Meanwhile, Barra and her company’s use of service bulletins in lieu of recalls will both go under the microscope, with the new CEO likely to testify before Congress next month.
Automotive News and Just-Auto report Boyer will provide vehicle safety updates on a frequent and regular schedule to GM’s senior management, board of directors and Barra:
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. 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.
Boyer, Barra and a number of GM execs are likely to testify before Congress sometime next month over the decade-delayed recall of 1.76 million vehicles affected globally by a flawed ignition switch that could deactivate engine power and airbags if the key is weighed down by unessential items, with her statements to highlight GM’s focus on the consumer in light of the recall going forward.
Meanwhile, the automaker’s use of service bulletins in lieu of potentially costly recalls — such as the aforementioned ignition recall — may cost GM more than the $35 million in fines the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration could levy on the automaker in terms of reputation, though they may not be alone in sharing the blame.
In 2005 and 2006, two bulletins related to the switch were sent to dealerships with instructions for dealers to ask drivers to remove unessential items from their key rings. Bulletins in general are issued for non-safety issues affecting a vehicle, and are made know only to service shops and the NTHSA, though a 2012 law entitled Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century — requiring the NTHSA to create a searchable public database by 2013 — would have solved the problem had the agency fulfilled the mandate.
According to Center for Auto Safety executive director Clarence Ditlow, bulletins such as the two issued by GM over the switch result in only 10 percent or fewer affected vehicles undergoing necessary repairs, while recalls as administered by the NTHSA through the Motor Vehicle Safety Act pull in 70 percent.
Ditlow also says automakers — looking out for financial incentives — generally seek out other fixes short of an official recall, placing the NTHSA in the position of negotiator when a recall is needed, leading to the situation where the agency itself is under the microscope as Congress probes into why the NTHSA didn’t push hard enough for a recall as early as 2007, when two deaths in Wisconsin related to the switch were brought up before GM executives.
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