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GM Review Found 'History Of Failures' In Ignition Switch Debacle, CEO Says

General Motors Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra (center), Executive Vice President Mark Reuss (right) and President Dan Ammann discuss a review of the company's handling of a recall for a deadly ignition switch problem.
Bill Pugliano
Getty Images
General Motors Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra (center), Executive Vice President Mark Reuss (right) and President Dan Ammann discuss a review of the company's handling of a recall for a deadly ignition switch problem.

An internal inquiry into the long-delayed ignition switch recall by General Motors found an 11-year "history of failures," CEO Mary Barra says. She announced the findings of an investigation into how the company handled a deadly defect with ignition switches at a Thursday morning news conference. (updated at 12:04 p.m.: added link to full report).

"As I read the report, I was deeply saddened and disturbed," Barra says. She said it described "a fundamental failure to meet the basic needs" of the company's customers. The CEO also said 15 employees, most of them executives, had been fired.

Update at 10:15 a.m. ET: No Proof Of A Conspiracy, GM Says

The ignition switch problem has been blamed for at least 13 deaths. While the issue is most closely identified with the Chevrolet Cobalt, the problem spurred a recall of 2.6 million vehicles. The company said last month that it will pay a $35 million fine over how it handled the issue.

Barra said that "from start to finish, the Cobalt saga was riddled with failures which led to tragic results for many."

She also stated that the report didn't find a conspiracy within GM to cover up the issue.

But in a news conference after she spoke to employees, Barra was repeatedly asked about a discrepancy that showed the ignition switch problem might have been solved in some cars earlier — if a part number had been changed when a new switch design was approved.

That move helped to mask the overall pattern of a serious safety flaw. Speaking about the issue in a congressional hearing in April, Barra said it was "an unacceptable practice."

Update at 9:45 a.m. ET: Several Executives Fired

Barra says that "a disproportionate number" of the 15 GM employees who were fired because of the recall debacle had served in senior or executive roles.

She later added that "well over 50-60 percent" of those let go are "executives or higher."

Barra also said GM has restructured itself to more closely align its safety and engineering units with other sections of the company.

Update at 9:30 a.m. ET: More Details Expected

Barra is slated to speak to reporters this morning. You can watch that event via streaming video; we'll update this post with news from the briefing.

Our original post continues:

The report found "a pattern of incompetence and neglect," Barra says, adding that GM employees repeatedly failed to share details about problems with the ignition switch in a way that could have limited their scope (see NPR's timeline of events).

No one took responsibility or showed a sense of urgency, the report says of teams that included engineers and other workers as well as the company's lawyers.

Barra, who became GM's CEO earlier this year, announced changes that included firing 15 people who showed either incompetency or an unwillingness to solve the problems. She also said disciplinary actions had been taken against five employees.

Speaking to an auditorium that was crowded with employees Thursday morning, Barra pledged to "keep this painful experience permanently in our collective memories."

The GM investigation was carried out by Anton Valukas, a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois in the late 1980s.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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