Lawmakers assail ‘disturbing pattern’ of safety failures at GM

Article by Andrew Christian, on June 21, 2014

The third appearance of GM chief executive Mary Barra before the United States Congress over the carmaker’s handling of the ignition switch issue appears nowhere more pleasant than her previous trips. Armed with more information and accompanied by some of her best lieutenant, Barra continued to be bombarded with tough questions on the “disturbing pattern” of safety failures at the carmaker from US lawmakers.

GM has so far issued 44 recalls this year, including the infamous faulty ignition switch tied to at least 13 deaths. The carmaker has so far recalled over 20 million vehicles, of which almost 6.5 million were called back for ignition switch-related issues.

During the Wednesday hearing at the Capitol Hill, a number of e-mails related to the issues were made public, including one sent by GM employee Laura Andres in 2005 to engineers providing a warning that a 2006 Chevrolet Impala Special car had experienced an engine stall when moving between a paved road and gravel.

According to the exchanges, a technician had advised her that the problem may lie with the ignition switch. Andres sent an e-mail to 11 other GM employees -- including the vice president of North American engineering – saying that the issue was a serious safety problem, “especially if this switch is on multiple programs.”

She added that there could a big recall in the making. GM did not issue a recall of the MY2006 Impala until June 16, 2014, adding to the large number of called back cars due to the ignition-switch issue.

In February and March, GM called back 2.6 million cars, including the Chevrolet Cobalt, for a separate ignition switch glitch that may lead a car to inadvertently stall, thereby disabling air bags, power steering and power brakes.

An internal probe found that GM failed to acknowledge warnings about the faulty ignition switch for more than a decade. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton remarked that the recall of the 2006 Chevrolet Impalas “appears to follow the same disturbing pattern as the Cobalt breakdown." [source: Reuters]

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