GM CEO Mary Barra was not aware of faulty switches, says Dan Akerson

Article by Christian A., on May 31, 2014

General Motors chief executive Mary Barra had no knowledge of the faulty ignition switches in its small cars linked to at least 13 deaths when she took the top post in January 2014, predecessor Dan Akerson has told Forbes. The report quoted Akerson as saying "of course not" after asked whether Barra "was thrown under the bus" by taking over the CEO role just before the carmaker issued the recall for 2.6 million small cars with defective ignition switch.

He noted that Barra has also said that by the time she knew of the problem, “she confronted it." Akerson announced his retirement in December 2013 and officially handed the role to Barra on Jan. 15, 2014. Barra remarked she and other GM executives only became aware of the issue on Jan. 31.

The carmaker has acknowledged that some workers already knew of the issue for more than a decade. Akerson told Forbes that Barra "didn’t know about" the issue. The ignition switch could shift out of the "run" position if shoved or weighed down by a heavy key chain.

The current ignition switch crisis at GM could be the trigger for the US carmaker to get rid of key starters in its offerings. Just last month, Barra remarked the latest recall – which covers around 2.59 million vehicles -- may prompt the company to make push-button start as standard in all its offerings.

Push-button start was first employed in Mercedes-Benz vehicles in the late 1990s. Now, according to according to Edmunds.com, push-button start is now offered as an option in around 72 percent of 2014 model cars and trucks in the US. In a poll by auto researcher AutoPacific, push-button start ranked as the fifth most coveted option for $100 or less.

According to Bill Visnic, senior editor at Edmunds.com, consumers view the push button as a convenience and a luxury feature. He noted that the ignition switch is now seen as less reliable feature. In fact, key ignitions are considered as one of the most complained features even before GM discovered the defects in its small cars.

Faulty ignitions switches could shut off the power steering and brakes as well as disable the car’s airbag. GM has already increased the number of crashes tied to the defective switches from 35 to 47.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the United States Department of Justice as well as two congressional committees are already investigating how GM handled the issue. In fact, the NHTSA has fined GM with $35 million for its delayed response in reporting the defect.

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