Former GM CEO May Have Seen Cobalt Slide in 2009, Report Shows

Jun 05, 2014 2:35 pm ET

June 5 (Bloomberg) -- Former General Motors Co. Chief Executive Officer Rick Wagoner may have viewed a presentation that included a description of stalling issues with the Chevrolet Cobalt about three weeks before he resigned, the company’s internal investigation found.

The reference to Wagoner is the first indication a chief executive for the largest U.S. automaker had any knowledge of faults in the Cobalt ignition switch. Mary Barra, who became CEO in January after more than 30 years at GM, has said she didn’t learn about company investigations into Cobalts until December 2013, and the report backed those statements.

Wagoner appears to have opened a computer file about a March 5, 2009, presentation summarizing a meeting of a GM review team, the report filed by Anton Valukas, an attorney with Jenner & Block LLP, states. GM today released the results of the probe on events leading up the the recall this year of 2.59 million small cars to fix a defective ignition switch that GM has linked to 13 deaths in accidents.

The slide Wagoner may have viewed focused exclusively on warranty costs and didn’t characterize the matter as a safety issue, the report said. The slide didn’t mention links between the defective switches and air bags failing to deploy, crashes or fatalities.

E-Mail Exchange

The presentation was on Wagoner’s computer and had been opened, according to the report. Wagoner said he didn’t recall viewing the presentation or the Cobalt slide, and investigators weren’t able to establish that he did, according to the report. E-mails exchanged with the person who provided summary notes of the meeting don’t mention the Cobalt, according to the report.

Three weeks after the presentation, on March 29, 2009, Wagoner resigned at the request of the U.S. government as part of a taxpayer bailout of GM.

Wagoner didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

While not finding any evidence of a cover-up, the Valukas report highlighted numerous organizational breakdowns, including engineers’ failure to focus on the switch defect as a safety issue. Barra used the report’s findings to justify the removal of 15 employees.