(Adds GM comments, details on changes, byline)
DETROIT, April 22 (Reuters) - General Motors Co said on Tuesday it is restructuring its engineering operations in a move meant to improve quality and safety of its vehicles as a result of the fallout from the defective ignition switch linked to at least 13 deaths.
The No. 1 U.S. automaker said global vehicle engineering is being split into two new organizations: global product integrity, and global vehicle components and subsystems.
The former group will use "advanced analysis tools and processes" to catch and prevent issues during vehicle development, and review field data to "react quickly to safety and product quality issues," GM said. It will focus on vehicle features such as ride and handling, steering, and braking, as well as overall quality and safety performance.
"We looked at this, in the midst of the recall of the switch, and look at how the organization should be structured as we get into very complex subsystems and vehicles," GM global product development chief Mark Reuss told reporters on a conference call.
Reuss added the changes will help GM identify problems faster and were a direct result of what the company found as it investigated how it failed to initially catch the defective ignition switch. He said there will be additional structural changes made to the company's product development process, but did not provide any details.
As part of the reorganization, GM said its global vehicle engineering chief, John Calabrese, is retiring. The 33-year GM veteran will remain through August to help with the transition and Reuss said his exit was not related to the ignition switch recall.
GM has come under heavy criticism for not catching the defective ignition switch that led to the recall of 2.6 million vehicles. The faulty switches had been studied by engineers in the company as early as 2001, but the issue never led to a recall until the initial action in February this year.
On Monday, GM filed a motion in a U.S. court to enforce a bar on lawsuits stemming from ignition defects in cars sold before its 2009 bankruptcy as it fights proposed class action litigation that seeks to set aside the restriction.
Reuss said most of those responsible for vehicle safety will meet in one room every week, including the heads of the two new organizations, and that group of executives will report monthly to GM's board on safety activities.
Ken Morris, currently executive director of global chassis engineering, has been named vice president of the global product integrity business, and new global vehicle safety chief Jeff Boyer will report to him. The organization will include vehicle, powertrain and electrical systems engineering as well as vehicle performance and supplier quality.
As part of Boyer's team, GM is adding 35 product investigators to an existing 20 who can follow up any consumer complaints to the company, its dealers or safety regulators, or that result from lawsuits filed against the automaker. Reuss said more investigators could be added if necessary.
"They are the data miners and the field investigators ... empowered to actually be deployed to the accident site or problem site or the dealership site, investigate the problem, make decisions very quickly on what we do, if anything," he said.
Morris said the new structure will change how problems are caught in vehicles before they are made. "This is one of the fundamental differences that we're going to have going forward, is connecting the dots on all the information that we gather and not being silo-ed so that information doesn't get transferred from one spot to another," he said.
Ken Kelzer, currently vice president of GM Europe powertrain engineering, has been named vice president of the global vehicle components business. His responsibility includes parts, advanced vehicle development and other engineering initiatives.
(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Nick Zieminski)