GM Brings a Fresh But Familiar Face to Its Communications Seat

General Motors is having a rough year. Since January, the company has recalled 11.2 million vehicles for one reason or another, more than double the 5 million-plus vehicles recalled by Toyota all of last year — at the time, Toyota led the industry in recall volume.

Big public relations nightmares like perpetual recalls (some with accident or body counts attached) require big public relations professionals to deal with them. To help grapple with the enormous fallout from the campaigns, General Motors has hired — rather, rehired – Volkswagen’s U.S. public relations operations head, Tony Cervone.

Cervone will start immediately as General Motors’ senior vice president of global communications, Bloomberg reports. He will replace Selim Bingol, who departed the company in April as a part of Mary Barra’s executive shake-up. Cervone will be responsible for global communications such as global products and brands, corporate, social media, executive support, and internal communications, the company said in its press release.

“It’s a great time to rejoin GM,” Cervone said in the statement. “A re-energized leadership team, the best products in its history, a renewed commitment to individual customer experiences, and a compelling drive for cultural change all combine to make this a key moment in this great company’s history.” His challenge, though, will be convincing the public of those things as General Motors pulls in a record volume of vehicles for safety recalls.

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Before venturing off, Cervone enjoyed a 10-year stint at GM, including time spent leading the company’s international communications operations in Europe. Cervone originally joined General Motors from Chrysler Group, where he was vice president of communications and held various other positions during a 14-year career there, GM said.

He then made his way to United Airlines, where he served as a senior vice president of communications and helped oversee the airline’s high-profile merger with Continental. He then moved on to Volkswagen before coming full circle and returning to General Motors.

Cervone’s appointment comes at a particularly low point in GM’s history. The company is still trying to win back public favor after its bankruptcy in 2009 that saw it take nearly $50 billion in federal funds, a move that left a bitter taste in the mouths of many free-market advocates. Added to that is the recent rash of recalls.

Chances are that General Motors’ issues run deeper than a new face on its PR team, but that definitely doesn’t hurt. Cervone’s appointment is one step in a long, upward hike that the company will be making for years to come.