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GM fires 15 over scandal, says 'no coverup'

WASHINGTON--General Motors chief executive Mary Barra said Thursday that the company has fired 15 mostly senior executives over the deadly ignition scandal that has placed the automaker under federal investigation.

But Barra said an internal investigation into why the company did not act on the problem for 11 years concluded there had been no concerted effort to hide it, instead showing a “deeply troubling” history of “incompetence and neglect.”

She said the company would take full responsibility for the problem and was setting up a compensation fund for victims of accidents tied to the faulty ignitions, four months after GM began recalling 2.6 million cars over the problem.

“The Cobalt saga was riddled with failure,” she told a meeting of company employees, referring to the main car model affected by the problem.

“We misdiagnosed the problem from the very beginning ... we have to own this problem.”

Barra said she “was deeply saddened and disturbed” by the report by former U.S. attorney Anton Valukas, recruited by the top U.S. automaker to find out why it took so long for the company to act on the ignition problem.

The report showed many people in the company had been aware of the problem, in which ignitions could be easily jolted into the off position while a car was still running, shutting down power steering and the safety airbags.

GM heard “over and over” about the problem from customers, dealers, employees and the media, but “nobody took responsibility” to deal with it, the report said.

'Nobody raised the problem'

“Nobody raised the problem to the highest levels of the company. As a result, those in the best position to demand quick answers did not know questions needed to be asked.”

The company knows of 54 accidents in which airbags did not deploy, possibly due to the ignition problem, and 13 deaths.

The U.S. auto safety regulator, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said it thinks the death toll could be higher.

And the independent Center for Auto Safety says it has counted more than 300 deaths linked to airbag non-deployment in the GM cars covered by the ignition recall, though it has not linked that problem to ignition shutdowns.

GM is reportedly facing a federal criminal probe and a congressional investigation for not having recalled the cars years ago.

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General Motors CEO Mary Barra and Executive Vice President Mark Reuss hold a news conference at the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, Thursday, June 5.

(AP)

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