Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra, who was cleared of wrong-doing in the report, revealed the results in a company town hall meeting.

General Motors Co on Thursday issued a report detailing how for 11 years it turned a blind eye to an ignition-switch problem linked to at least 13 deaths but largely pinned the blame on what the report described as incompetent lower-level employees, leaving top brass untouched.

The report, which will be the subject of upcoming congressional hearings, describes shortcomings of GM engineers, including a failure to understand “how the car was built.” Meanwhile, according to the 325-page report, the highest levels of the company were not made aware.

Providing a rare peek into the operations of one of the world's biggest automotive companies, the internal investigation said GM had a long-running corporate culture in which nobody took responsibility for problems.

The “GM nod” was how CEO Mary Barra described that culture, “when everyone nods in agreement to a proposed plan of action, but then leaves the room and does nothing,” the document said.

In February, GM finally began recalling vehicles for repairs. So far, 2.6 million vehicles have been identified. This recall, coupled with others announced by GM this year, has cost the company about $1.7 billion so far.

By 2011, three years before the recalls began, outside lawyers were warning GM's in-house counsel that they needed to act, the report said.

Barra said 15 employees found to have “acted inappropriately” have been fired. She did not name all the individuals, but said more than half of them had been in senior or executive roles.

During April congressional hearings, Barra was unable to answer many questions, saying the internal investigation would find answers. But at Thursday's news conference, she still left some questions unanswered, including why GM redesigned the flawed ignition switch but failed to follow normal procedures of assigning a new part number. That has led some critics to believe someone was covering up the change.

Barra, who has served as CEO for about five months, said disciplinary action was taken against five others.

Democratic Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts, who is pushing legislation to clamp down on automaker defects, said of the GM report: “We need more than an accounting of past mistakes” and “an internal investigation alone is not nearly enough to ensure that a decade-long tragedy like this never happens again.”

Since early this year, the Detroit automaker has been enveloped in a scandal over why it took more than a decade to begin recalling low-cost Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other cars with ignition-switch problems that were causing them to stall during operation.

Because of the engine stalls, air bags failed to deploy during crashes - some of them fatal - and drivers had difficulty operating their vehicles because power steering and brake systems also malfunctioned.

“As years passed and fatalities mounted, engineers investigating the non-deployments and attempting to understand their cause were neither diligent nor incisive,” the GM report said.

Also infused through the document is the notion that GM engineers misdiagnosed the safety problem by failing to connect dots that would have linked the cars' system failures.

But at the same time, GM “heard over and over from various quarters, including customers, dealers, the press and their own employees that the car's ignition switch led to moving stalls” but employees “failed to take action or acted too slowly.”


Some new details also emerged about fatalities related to GM's cars.

The report said GM had identified 54 frontal-impact crashes, involving the deaths of more than a dozen people, in which air bags did not deploy as a possible result of the faulty ignition switch.

Only last week, GM raised the count to 47, from 35, and has now raised it again, leading to questions about whether the 13 deaths linked to the defect will grow, as consumer advocates have predicted.