General Motors reportedly has forced out several executives and managers, including the head of its global engine operations, as the company’s recall of vehicles in India raises questions about improper emissions tests.

GM told the New York Times it had dismissed the employees for violating unspecified company policies. One of the executives was Sam Winegarden, a vice president in charge of engine programmes, who retired this week after 44 years with the automaker.

The management shake-up came after the Indian government began an investigation into the recall last week of 114,000 Chevrolet Tavera utility vehicles sold by GM in India.

Indian news reports said the government was investigating whether GM had improperly manipulated the weight and engine performance in the Tavera during emissions testing and certification.

A GM spokesman declined to tell the NY Times whether the employees had been forced to leave because of the government investigation.

“General Motors’ investigation into our recall of the Chevrolet Tavera, which is built and sold exclusively in India, identified violations of company policy,” GM said in a statement. “GM subsequently dismissed several employees.”

One person briefed on the dismissals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told the paper at least 10 employees, mostly in India, were involved. The highest-ranking employee was Winegarden who was based in the United States and was the top engineer for the company’s engine operations worldwide.

The company, which said it was voluntarily recalling the vehicles, acknowledged that the Indian government was aware of “an emissions issue” with the Tavera, one of G.M.’s mainstream models in the country.

“G.M. India informed Indian government authorities of an emissions issue involving the Tavera BS3 meeting certain specifications on 19 July,” the company said.

The company stopped production of the Tavera in India this month. It said it would make changes to vehicles built as far back as 2005 and perform the required engineering validation. It gave no timetable for notifying customers and doing the work.

The decision to oust executives is in keeping with a zero-tolerance policy about violation of corporate ethics led by GM’s chief executive, Dan Akerson.

“We take these matters very seriously and hold our leaders and employees to high standards,” the company said. “When those standards are not met, we will take the appropriate action to hold employees accountable.”

Last year, Joel Ewanick, GM’s chief marketing officer, was forced to resign after questions were raised inside the company about his handling of a sponsorship deal with a British soccer team, the NY Times noted.

The Times of India said firings included GM India CFO Anil Mehrotra, who had been with the company for over a decade and Ravi Desai who was head of GM India engineering organisation in a previous posting. 

Ashwani Muppasani, former head of vehicle sales, servicing and marketing at GM India who is also now posted abroad, has also been asked to quit. And so is Sheila Jain Sarver who headed GM's India technical centre at Bangalore. 

These were just some of about 24 sackings that the company effected as the scandal broke out last week.

"More high-profile exits may follow," a top source told the paper. 

The paper said the GM scandal had alarmed the Indian government which is now taking steps to mandate vehicle recalls when problems of a generic nature are noticed. The auto industry had been fighting hard to avert a mandated recall, which carries stiff penalties for violation. Industry lobby group Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (Siam) had come out with a voluntary recall code last year, but this was always seen as weak in the absence of any government mandate.

Meanwhile, the Hindustan Times said GM India may recall the diesel and sedan versions of its Sail small car Sail launched earlier this year. 

Production of the two cars stopped last month around the same time as the Tavera, though the problems were different in nature. A restart is planned this week.

"We are currently inspecting the batches of the cars already on the road on whether there is a problem with the engine," a senior official at GM's Talegaon factory told the paper. "It is a minor quality issue. But if some of the cars on the road are hit, they may be recalled."

Officially, GM neither confirmed nor denied recall plans.

"We will need two-three weeks to ascertain whether any of the vehicles on road are hit and a decision on recall will only be taken after that," said P Balendran, head of corporate affairs at GM India.

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