GM hires back PR executive to help repair battered image

General Motors, grappling with the recall of a record 11.2 million vehicles in the U.S. this year including cars linked to the deaths of 13 people, announced a familiar a name to head its public-relations department: Tony Cervone, a former GM PR executive.

Cervone, who most recently led Volkswagen’s U.S. public-relations operations after a decade with GM, starts immediately as senior-vice president of global communications, the Detroit-based automaker said today in a statement.

He replaces Selim Bingol, who left the company in April. Mary Barra, who became chief executive officer in January, has reshuffled executives as she plays defense dealing with the recall crisis. The automaker has also named a new head of human resources, reorganized the engineering department and placed Bob Ferguson, head of Cadillac, in charge of public policy.

“Tony brings an ideal mix of outside perspective and experience that complements a deep background in GM and today’s global auto industry,” Barra said in the statement.“I’ve worked with Tony in the past and he has my trust and respect. I know he’ll be another catalyst for change on our leadership team.”

Cervone previously spent 10 years at GM, including as vice president of global communications strategy and operations, and 14 years at what is now Chrysler Group LLC, including as vice president for communications. He left GM in early 2009, according to Bloomberg data. Prior to Volkswagen, he was senior vice president of United Airlines parent UAL Corp. and part of the team that oversaw the carrier’s merger with Continental Airlines Inc., GM said.

His experience in the auto industry is needed at GM, David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., said in a telephone interview. “This is a time of elevated importance for that position,” Cole said. “They’ve got a story to tell and they haven’t told it very well.”

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