WARREN, Mich. (AP) — General Motors says a pattern of incompetence and neglect, not a larger conspiracy or cover-up, is to blame for a long-delayed recall of defective ignition switches.
GM CEO Mary Barra, who released the results of an internal investigation into the company's missteps on Thursday, said 15 employees — many of them senior legal and engineering executives — have been forced out of the company for failing to disclose the defect, which the company links to 13 deaths. Five other employees have been disciplined.
GM also said it will establish a compensation program for families of victims and those who suffered serious injuries in accidents related to the switches. The program is expected to begin taking claims Aug. 1.
Barra called the investigation, which she ordered in March, "brutally tough and deeply troubling." It took GM more than a decade to report the deadly switch failures to regulators and the public, and to recall the cars.
"I hate sharing this with you just as much as you hate hearing it," Barra told employees in a town hall meeting at GM's suburban Detroit technical center. "But I want you to hear it. I want you to remember it. I want you to never forget it." Barra then promised to "fix the failures in our system."
The crisis began in February, when GM recalled 780,000 older-model Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 small cars because of defective ignition switches. GM soon added the Saturn Ion and other small cars to the recall, which ballooned to 2.6 million cars worldwide.
The switches in the cars can slip out of the "run" position and shut down the engine. That disables the power-assisted steering and brakes and can cause drivers to lose control. It also disables the air bags. GM reiterated Thursday that it only links 13 deaths to the problem, but trial lawyers suing the company put the death toll closer to 60.