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GM Implements Structural Changes to Improve Vehicle Safety

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According to a report by Detroit News, GM has recently reassigned M. Carmen Benavides, the former director of safety investigations and safety regulations, to another position. Benavides was responsible for the company’s response to auto safety recalls, and was heavily involved in the recent ignition recall investigation.

A spokesman for GM stated that the switch was unrelated to the ignition switch recall, and instead was part of the company’s efforts to improve vehicle quality and safety.

GM Slow to Respond to Issues with Ignition Defect

Recent GM recalls have involved over 2.6 million vehicles with suspected ignition switch defects. The defect causes the vehicle to turn off unexpectedly, shutting down power systems and potentially causing air bags not to deploy during an accident. GM has linked the defect with 13 deaths and over 30 crashes, though a recent report by the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) argued that the death toll may be closer to 300.

GM came under fire for failing to implement the recall years earlier, as a National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) investigation turned up documents revealing company awareness of the issue as early as 2004. Benavides’ name turned up on many of the documents reviewed during the investigation, as it was she who signed the letters to the association and who received requests for information from the government.

As a result of that investigation, GM was recently fined $35 million for failing to report the defect in a timely manner. In addition to the fine, the company is required to make significant, supervised changes to its safety practices.

GM Makes Significant Structural Changes

In a report by Reuters, GM stated that Brian Latouf had replaced Benavides as part of a company-wide shift announced April 22, 2014. Part of that shift was to split the engineering department into two divisions, one focused on product integrity.

Benavides will now work on improving vehicle safety as director of safety improvement initiatives. Meanwhile, two engineers linked to the ignition switch problem have been placed on paid leave. The company has also appointed a new global head of vehicle safety, Jeff Boyer, and a new vice president in charge of product integrity, Ken Morris. More changes are expected in the months to come.

Company Facing Additional Investigations

The $35 million fine is not likely to be the end of GM’s penalties. The company is still under investigation by the Justice Department, House and Senate subcommittees, the Securities and Exchange Commission, a group of state attorneys general, and hundreds of private individuals who have filed lawsuits.

The NHTSA has also faced criticism for failing to investigate the ignition switch problem much earlier. According to a letter from CAS Executive Director Clarence Ditlow to the association, “the only way NHTSA could not see a defect trend is if it closed its eyes.” In its defense, the association has stated that they did not receive the appropriate information from GM that would have prompted an earlier investigation.

According to CNN, GM has recalled nearly 13 million vehicles this year so far.