General Motors continues to shake up its senior management ranks in the wake of the ongoing ignition switch recall scandal, this time ousting its global engineering chief and splitting the job into two new posts with a goal of catching potential safety problems earlier on.
The “retirement” of 55-year-old John Calabrese comes shortly after GM’s directors of Human Resources and Public Relations announced their departures amidst a crisis that could see the automaker face criminal charges levied by the Justice Department for the decade-long delay in ordering a recall of defective ignition switches linked to at least 13 deaths. GM has also been accused of delaying another recall while federal regulators have launched an investigation into braking problems involving the company’s new Chevrolet Impala sedan.
“We feel that just an organizational change is not going to solve everything,” said Mark Reuss, the GM veteran who took over as global product development director late last year. “We have to have the right people with the organization, with the right leadership and with the right processes in place. … We know we can do it and we are going to do it.”
(Barra defends GM’s handling of recall investigation. Click Here for the latest.)
Reuss used a call with the automotive media to announce the departure of Calabrese – which he termed a “retirement,” rather than a forced departure, insisting the timing was “in no way connected” to the recall problem.
But the move came as Calabrese’s old job was split in two, with Ken Kelzer named to head global vehicle component and subsystems operations, with Ken Morris getting a newly created job as director of the global product integrity group.
This follows other changes, including the appointment by GM CEO of a new safety czar, Jeff Boyer, who has over-riding authority to take any necessary steps, including ordering a recall, if problems are discovered with GM products.
(For more on the appointment of the new safety czar, Click Here.)
About the time of that announcement Barra had told reporters “I have confidence” in Calabrese’s organization. But GM has been conducting an extensive internal investigation into the ignition switch recall and, more broadly, its handling of safety-related problems. Two senior engineers linked to the botched switch recall have already been placed on paid leave and it remains to be seen if others will be implicated as the investigation continues.
GM’s own internal investigation comes even as several separate probes have gotten underway in Washington. Among those looking into the ignition switch recall are the U.S. Justice Department, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and committees of both the House and Senate.
During his conference call, product development chief Reuss acknowledged the latest management shake-up is a result of the recall scandal. He noted GM will expand the number of “product investigators who will report to Morris from 20 to 35. They are assigned to track not only internal testing results – such as crash test data – but also outside indicators of problems that include customer complaints.
(To find out which other execs have left GM lately, Click Here.)
Noting the complexity of today’s automobile, which can have 30,000 separate parts, Reuss said the goal is to integrate them “into cohesive systems with industry-leading quality and safety.”
The shake-up at GM’s product development system apparently isn’t yet complete. Reuss suggested that a “framework” for further changes will be “rolled out later.”
(Feds launch probe of potential brake problem with 2014 Chevy Impala. Click Here for more.)