DETROIT — General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra does not know if criminal charges are warranted in connection with a defective ignition switch, but she is satisfied that the 15 employees who were fired is the end of punitive action on the company’s part.
“That’s up to the courts,” Barra said of possible criminal charges. She made the statements Thursday morning in a live interview with Matt Lauer on NBC’s “Today” show. The interview was conducted in Detroit at GM headquarters.
It was Barra’s first television interview since the ignition switch recall began in February. The defective ignition switches have been tied to 13 deaths and more than 50 crashes. The ignitions can be bumped out of the “start” and into the “accessory” position, cutting power to the steering, engine and air bags. She said she does not believe there was a cover-up behind the delayed recall.
Barra denied that cost was the reason that the ignition switch was delayed for a decade. Nor does she think there was a cover-up at GM, but rather silos of information that prevented people from recognizing the extent of the problem and coming forward.
“People did not understand the safety aspects,” Barra said, insisting it will never happen again. Employees now take notes in safety meetings, which she is copied on and reviews.
“If I could turn back the clock, I would, but I can’t,” said the 30-year GM veteran, who took the top job in January. The first of many recalls of vehicles with a defective ignition switch was in February.
Barra said she is determined to regain public trust and change the culture and processes at GM. It is a big task for a company that has already recalled more vehicles this year than it sold in 2013. And Barra did not rule out more recalls to come, as the safety of all vehicles is now under intense scrutiny.
Barra also stressed that plans to compensate victims extends to survivors of crashes, not just the families of the 13 identified as losing their lives in one of the now-recalled vehicles. The number of deaths attributed to the defect could also rise.
Kenneth Feinberg, the expert GM hired to create a compensation fund, is expected to outline terms of that compensation in the next few days.
It was not Barra’s first time on television if you count the C-Span live coverage of her three trips to testify before Congress on how the company could be aware of a defective part for more than a decade without issuing a recall.