GM Doubles Investigators as Vehicle Engineering Reordered

General Motors Co. replaced the head of its global vehicle engineering unit in a reorganization that includes more than doubling the number of product investigators after a small-car recall linked to at least 13 deaths raised concerns about vehicle safety at the automaker.

John Calabrese, vice president of global vehicle engineering, will retire, the Detroit-based company said today in a statement. His department will be split into two organizations called the Global Product Integrity and Global Vehicle Components and Subsystems and be run by newly assigned executives.

“Just an organizational change is not going to solve everything,” Mark Reuss, head of product development, said today on a conference call with reporters. “We have to have the right people with the organization with the right leadership and with the right processes in place.”

GM has being playing defense in recent weeks amid the recall of 2.59 million cars. Congress, federal regulators and the U.S. Justice Department are all investigating why it took the automaker more than a decade to recall models with faulty ignition switches that allowed the key to slip out of the “on” position, shutting off the engine and disabling air bags.

Today’s moves are part of an effort to reduce the compartmentalization of the different engineering disciplines and should help catch future safety issues, the company said. Some of the changes will help standardize how the company responds to issues that arise, Reuss said. The effort has to have an almost “militaristic zeal for preventing, identifying and resolving these issues.”

Calabrese Retires

Calabrese’s retirement isn’t related to the recall, Reuss said. Calabrese, who has been with GM for more than 33 years, will help with the transition until his departure in August, the company said in a statement. Calabrese, a key deputy during Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra’s time running product development, was part of Reuss’s conference call to announce the changes. Reuss referred to him as a “very good friend.”

“John was on the team that helped us power through getting the parts into production,” Reuss said, referring to the replacement ignition switches.

When asked how Calabrese’s departure wasn’t related to the recalls, Reuss said he couldn’t discuss the company’s ongoing investigation.

Ken Morris, executive director of global chassis engineering, becomes vice president of global product integrity, putting him in charge of vehicle, powertrain and electrical-system engineering along with Jeff Boyer’s Global Vehicle Safety organization, which was created in the wake of the recalls.

More Investigators

Boyer is getting 35 additional product investigators, GM said. That’s on top of about 20 the company already has, Morris said during the call.

“This is one of the fundamental differences that we’re going to have going forward, connecting the dots on all of the information that we gather and not being siloed so that information doesn’t get transferred from one spot to another,” he said. “That’s one of the fundamental changes that product integrity introduces.”

The new system will help recognize and categorize problems that arise, Morris said.

“We’re going to have a group of experts look at the problems that we’re having on pre-production cars and they will categorize all of them,” he said. “In this case, it would’ve been a safety issue and we would’ve flagged it immediately in pre-production.”

Safety Focus

Ken Kelzer, vice president of GM Europe powertrain engineering, has been named vice president of Global Vehicle Components and Subsystems, giving him authority over the company’s engineering operations, component development, advanced vehicle development and other engineering initiatives.

“A vehicle is a collection of 30,000 individual parts,” Reuss said in the statement. “Fully integrating those parts into cohesive systems with industry-leading quality and safety is key in this customer-driven business.”

Reuss succeeded Barra as head of product development in January when she became chief executive officer. Last week, the CEO announced the creation of the Global Product Integrity organization aimed at using strategies previously employed to improve vehicle handling and driving to focus on safety.

Barra’s Team

Barra is also beginning to shape her executive team with GM announcing April 14 that John Quattrone, a key deputy of hers who ran human resources for product development when she was head of the department, was named the new senior vice president of global human resources. GM also announced that Selim Bingol, head of GM’s public relations and global public policy operations, was leaving. A replacement wasn’t announced.

Bob Ferguson, who ran government relations and public policy before taking over Cadillac in 2012, is now running both the luxury brand and public policy, Barra told reporters last week at a Chevrolet press conference.

More changes are expected within product development, Reuss said.

“This is the beginning,” he said.

GM rose 1 percent to $34.33 at 2:04 p.m.

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