WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers expressed disbelief Wednesday at General Motors’ explanation for why it took 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. On 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.
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., read a 2005 e-mail 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 e-mail 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.