General Motors is adding 35 product safety investigators as part of a larger restructuring of its engineering operations in response to a massive car recall.
GM said Tuesday that the new investigators will more than double the size of its current team, to 55. The company is also dividing its global engineering operations and placing a greater emphasis on whole vehicles, and their safety, instead of on individual parts.
As part of the reorganization, GM's top engineering executive, a longtime colleague and key lieutenant of Chief Executive Mary Barra, is retiring. John Calabrese has worked with Barra in various roles over the past 15 years and has been GM vice president of global engineering for the last three years. His role will split in two.
GM product development chief Mark Reuss said he is making the changes after the recall in February of 2.6 million cars for defective ignition switches. The company has tied the defect to 13 deaths. GM and the government are investigating why it took the company more than a decade to recall the cars after engineers first learned of problems with the switches.
Reuss said the recall of Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other cars, made clear that the company needed more investigators to look into problems reported by customers, dealers and federal regulators. Increasingly advanced technologies — like radar cruise control systems that rely on many of the 30,000 parts in a car — also demand greater integration in engineering, he said.
Reuss told reporters on a conference call to announce the changes that the company has moved very quickly on some recalls but slowly on others. The reorganization is designed to remove that variability and make sure different parts of the company are talking to each other.
GM has placed two engineers on paid leave while it investigates the recall. Lawmakers have accused one of those engineers of trying to cover up the switch problem by not changing part numbers after he approved a replacement switch in 2006.