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GM Appoints New Safety Chief, CEO ‘Personally’ Sorry About Switch Recall

New CEO of General Motors Mary Barra speaks during a press conference at the Opel car factory in Ruesselsheim, Germany, Monday, Jan. 27, 2014. Barra is stressing the company's support for its struggling Opel subsidiary in Europe. Barra said it was "no accident" that her first overseas trip was to Adam Opel AG in Ruesselsheim. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

New CEO of General Motors Mary Barra speaks during a press conference at the Opel car factory in Ruesselsheim, Germany, Monday, Jan. 27, 2014. Barra is stressing the company's support for its struggling Opel subsidiary in Europe. Barra said it was "no accident" that her first overseas trip was to Adam Opel AG in Ruesselsheim. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

Detroit — General Motors Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra, speaking to the media for the first time about the recall of 1.6 million small cars, personally apologized for “everything that has happened” and extended condolences to affected families.

“I want to start by saying again how sorry I am personally and how sorry General Motors is for what has happened,” Barra said. “Clearly lives have been lost and families are affected, and that is very serious. We want to just extend our deep condolences for everyone’s losses.”

Barra said it “took too long” to recall the cars that stalled and killed 12 people. Earlier Tuesday, she appointed a new safety chief to ensure defects get a more timely resolution. “Our goal is that something like this will never happen again.”

Barra, speaking to reporters at the company’s Detroit headquarters, said she first learned about an analysis of the stalling cars in December, weeks before she become CEO, and that she was informed of the decision to recall cars on Jan. 31. GM’s board was notified after the recall was filed. In the future, directors will be informed sooner, Barra said.

What Barra and others at GM knew and when is the goal of the company’s internal investigation into why the automaker took so long to recall 1.6 million Cobalts and other small cars. The replacement of ignition switches was announced last month, years after customers started complaining that the autos could switch off if bumped or driven with a heavy key chain.

Barra said a key step in fixing the GM system for recalls was her announcement Tuesday that she has created a new global vehicle safety position and promoted a 40-year engineering executive to run it.

Jeff Boyer, who joined GM in 1974 as an intern, will have global responsibility for identifying and resolving product-safety issues, Barra said. She said she’s known Boyer since the early 1980s and expects him to change the process.

“Jeff is a passionate safety zealot,” Reuss told reporters.

Aside from disavowing prior knowledge of the problem, Barra didn’t say much, Matt Stover, an analyst with Guggenheim Securities in Boston, said in a telephone interview.

“Everything else was right from the playbook,” he said. “She handled herself well, but I don’t think she really told us anything. But you have to get out and talk.”