By Dee-Ann Durbin Associated Press
DETROIT — General Motors is adding 35 product safety investigators as part of a larger restructuring of its engineering operations in response to a massive safety recall.
GM said Tuesday that the new investigators will more than double the size of its current team, to 55. The company also dividing its global engineering operations and placing a greater emphasis on whole vehicles, and their safety, instead of on individual parts.
GM product development chief Mark Reuss said he is making the changes after the recall in February of 2.6 million older model 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 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.
“We have to have the right people, the right leadership and the right processes in place. There is a lot more to come, but we think this is a fundamentally different way to come to market with our cars and trucks,” Reuss told reporters on a conference call to announce the changes.
Reuss said 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. Reuss, who plans weekly meetings with the heads of the new engineering departments, promised “a militaristic zeal for preventing and resolving these issues.”
John Calabrese, GM’s current vice president of global vehicle engineering and a 33-year veteran of the company, will retire as part of the restructuring. He will remain with the company through August to assist with the transition.
GM has placed two engineers on paid leave while it investigates the recall. Lawmakers have accused one of those engineers, switch engineer Ray DeGiorgio, of trying to cover up the switch problem by not changing part numbers after he approved a replacement switch in 2006.
Calabrese, who has been head of global engineering since 2011, oversees those engineers, but Reuss said his departure isn’t connected to the recall.
“The vehicles produced in the last four-and-a-half years, under John, won numerous quality and safety awards,” Reuss said. “The design and engineering of these vehicles is the best in our history.”
Ken Morris, who is currently executive director of global chassis engineering, will become vice president of global product integrity. Ken Kelzer, who is currently vice president of powertrain engineering in Europe, will become vice president of global vehicle components and subsystems.
General Motors Co. shares rose 34 cents to $34.32 in afternoon trading Tuesday. Its shares have fallen almost 17 percent so far this year.