WASHINGTON — Lawmakers expressed disbelief Wednesday at General Motors’ explanation for why it took the company 11 years to recall millions of small cars with defective ignition switches, and also confronted its chief executive with evidence that the company dragged its feet on a similar safety issue in different vehicles.
CEO Mary Barra and attorney Anton Valukas, who recently released a 315-page investigative report into the recall, endured skepticism and some lecturing at a House subcommittee hearing. One member referred to the actions of some employees described in the report as “insane.”
The GM recall has triggered a deeper look at ignition switches across the auto industry. Wednesday, the government opened an investigation into reports of defective switches in 1.2 million Chrysler vehicles.
Barra made her second appearance before the committee since GM recalled 2.6 million small cars in February. As families of some of the people who died in crashes in Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions looked on, she was again pressed on whether GM’s commitment to safety has changed much.
44 recalls of 18M cars
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., read a 2005 email from a GM employee who had a 2006 Chevrolet Impala stall on her after its ignition slipped out of position while she was driving it. “I’m thinking big recall,” the employee wrote — but that recall never came until this week.
Upton asked Barra what GM would do with such an email if it was sent today, and Barra said GM would take “immediate action.” GM has issued 44 recalls covering nearly 18 million cars in the U.S. this year.
Barra noted that GM has recently hired 40 more safety investors. But when she acknowledged that most of them were promoted from within GM, another member suggested GM get some “outside fresh blood.”
Lawmakers at the hearing were skeptical of many of the conclusions in Valukas’s report, which was paid for by GM and released June 5. The report found that a lone engineer, Ray DeGiorgio, was able to approve the use of a switch that didn’t meet company specifications. Years later, he ordered a change to that switch without anyone else at GM being aware.
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Failures found throughout GM
General Motors CEO Mary Barra and Anton Valukas, who led an internal investigation of the recall, testified before a House subcommittee on the decade-delayed recall of 2.6 million cars for a defective ignition switch.
The defect has been blamed for 13 deaths. Valukas’s report found that a pattern of incompetence and neglect within GM was to blame for the delay
“The 15 people that are no longer with the company are the people that either didn’t take action they should or didn’t work urgently enough to rectify this matter, and they are no longer a part of this company. That was a strong signal to send within the company.”
“We found failures throughout the company. … GM will have to make decisions about how to ensure that this never happens again.”
“That’s just insane, isn’t it?”
— Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., reacting to Valukas’s statement that GM engineers viewed the ignition-switch malfunctions and engine stalling as a matter of customer convenience rather than a safety problem.
“I think this is a serious safety problem, especially if this switch is on multiple programs. I’m thinking big recall.”
— GM employee Laura Andres, in a 2005 email to engineers at the company after the Impala she was driving stalled
“In many ways the facts surrounding what finally resulted in the GM recall are far more troubling than a cover-up.”
— Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee that is investigating the recall