By Keith Laing - 04/15/14 05:27 PM EDT
General Motors CEO Mary Barra said Tuesday that the company was more focused on safety than it has been in recent years, despite intense criticism of its handling of widespread recalls in recent months.
GM has come under fire for allegedly purposely delaying recalling 1.6 million cars that had a dangerous ignition switch flaw because it did not want to pay for repairs.
Barra said in a speech at the at the New York International Auto Show on Tuesday that the company is “more focused on quality and doing what is right for the customer than at any time in my 33 years with the company,” despite the recall criticism.
Barra has been sharply criticized for her testimony during a pair of recent contentious congressional hearings. The GM CEO, who is in her first year at the helm of the Detroit-based auto company, told lawmakers she was “deeply sorry” for the delays in issuing the ignition recalls.
Barra sought to draw a distinction between her tenure as GM CEO and decisions that were prior to her ascension, but lawmakers pointed out she had a been a high-ranking official at the company before he was prompted.
The GM recall involves cars that are mostly older models the company no longer makes like the Chevrolet Cobalt and the Saturn Ion that have been found to abruptly shut off or have their airbags disabled if drivers have too many objects on their keychains.
Barra said Tuesday that the coverage of the recalls has made it hard for the company to talk about its progress in other areas of its business.
“I think it’s fair to say that much of the progress we have made in the last two months has been overshadowed by the intensity of the recall coverage – but in fact there has been a lot of good news to report,” she said. “In North America, this includes the critical launches of our heavy-duty pickups and full-size SUVs.
"Incidentally, year-over-year sales of our full-size SUVs were up 62 percent last month, with availability of the all-new 2015 models building per plan," Barra continued. "Overall, our U.S. retail sales were up 7 percent in March, outpacing the industry.”
Barra said GM’s employees were aware they would largely be judged on their handling of the recalls this year, however.
“All of us understand what is at stake here,” she said. “At GM, our first value is very clear: Customers are our compass. But let’s face it – it’s easy to come up with a list of values. What’s difficult is showing they are more than words on paper.
“Our actions in recent weeks show we at GM are committed to living our values,” Barra continued. “I am committed to seeing it through.”
Barra said she was creating a Global Product Integrity unit within GM to monitor the safety of its automobile manufacturing going forward.
“This new way of developing vehicles will provide the highest levels of safety, quality, and customer service… and ensure that a situation like the ignition-switch recall doesn’t happen again,” she said.