Congress to demand more answers from GM CEO Barra – USA TODAY
General Motors CEO Mary Barra returns to Capitol Hill on Wednesday for a new round of grilling by a House panel, joined this time by the former U.S. Attorney who prepared GM’s internal report on why it took the company more than a decade to recall 2.19 million U.S. small cars for ignition switches that had a fatal flaw.
Barra got a rough reception April 1 at the initial hearing by the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee. Now that the report by Anton Valukas has been released, the panel is holding a new hearing and asked Valukas also to appear.
Both released on Tuesday written statements submitted in advance for the panel, and in his remarks, Valukas holds open the possibility that he might have to modify his damning report on General Motors’ internal safety procedures and culture.
Officially, his probe is over, but, “If we discover any new information that materially affects our report, we will supplement our findings to the (GM) board,” he says.
The report finds switch problem was first reported within GM in 2001; the recalls — to which GM links 13 deaths and 54 crashes– were announced February and March this year. The switches can inadvertently move out of the “run” position into “accessory,” shutting off the engine, eliminating power assist to the steering and brakes and usually disabling air bags.
Valukas was hired by GM to find out how such a delay could have happened. His June 2 report to GM’s board of directors found ignorance and irresponsibility among GM employees who should have recognized the safety implications and sounded an alarm.
In his written remarks, Valukas tells the subcommittee that, “amazingly, the (GM) engineers investigating” the switch problems “did not understand that, when the key turned to ‘accessory’ the air bags would fail to deploy.”
Adding pressure on Barra: On Monday, GM recalled another 3.16 million U.S. midsize and large cars with different ignition switches, but which also have the potential to move out of “run” if the key is weighed down by a heavy key ring. GM links eight crashes and six injuries to the new recall.
That brings to 8 million the number of U.S. cars recalled this year by GM for switch-related problems. They also triggered a crash effort by GM to identify and deal with all pending safety questions. All-in, GM has issued 44 recalls so far this year covering 17.73 million U.S. cars and trucks. Barra, in her advance testimony, also notes that as a result of the “brutally tough” evaluation by Valukas, she has separated from GM 15 lawyers and engineers whose actions — or inaction — contributed to the switch problem.
It’s clear from committee members that the latest switch recall could bring Barra a grilling as severe as the earlier one.
“This latest recall raises even more questions about just how pervasive safety problems are at GM,” Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said in a statement. “Has GM taken all necessary actions to fix the issues?”
George Cook, a former Ford Motor marketing executive who is a professor of marketing at Simon Business School at the University of Rochester, says, however, that it will be difficult for the panel to fault Barra’s handling of the recall issue, because she moved quickly to ax people involved in the switch debacle, reorganized GM’s safety procedures and appointed the global safety chief who has been busily cleaning house by pushing for recalls on issues that might have hung in limbo for further study in the past.
But, Cook says, the common question now will be how deeply quality-control problems go at GM and thus, are GM’s latest models safe?
Barra, in her April 1 testimony before the subcommittee, promised to answer questions more completely when Valukas finished his report. The panel now will expect her and Valukas to deliver on that promise.