Senate panel grills GM CEO Mary Barra and vows more hearings

Article by Christian A., on April 4, 2014

Members of the Senate Commerce Committee's consumer protection panel has raised the possibility of a criminal prosecution and vowed to conduct more hearings over General Motors’ handling of its faulty ignition switch recall. The new hearings may invite former GM officials in charge during the years that vehicles with the defective ignition switch were not recalled – until February 2014.

Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., said, said the panel needs to hear from people who had held key GM posts who may have knowledge of defects. GM chief executive Mary Barra endured a scolding at the Capitol Hill and vowed to return with answers once GM wraps up its own investigation. Panel members were frustrated over Barra’s inability to answer even questions pertinent to documents that GM itself submitted over to lawmakers.

At one point during the hearing, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., told Barra: “You don't know anything about anything!” Sen. Claire McCaskill accused earlier in the hearing a GM engineer of not telling the truth on his role in the 2006 redesign of the faulty ignition switch, saying that GM “chose to conceal, rather than disclose” the defect for over seven years.

She cited an April 2006 document that shows GM engineer Ray DeGiorgio authorized the redesign of the faulty switch. The carmaker has told the NHTSA that the redesigned part was not assigned a new part number, which is a violation of its protocols.

The non-assignment also muddled engineers’ efforts to determine why switches in later-model cars were different. DeGiorgio said in an April 2013 deposition that he was not aware of changes to the ignition switch in 2006, adding that they did not approve a detent plunger design change.

General Motors said in its latest filing with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it has knowledge of indications of faulty ignition switches in the Saturn Ion as early as 2001, or around three years earlier than previously revealed by the US carmaker. According to the filing, GM received a report on the "passlock" system for the Saturn Ion's ignition switch in 2001 during pre-production development of the car.

GM released in February the chronology to explain the global recall of a second batch of vehicles. GM said the ignition switch’s problem was "low detent plunger force," but a modification in its design resolved the issues. Later, GM engineers and outside investigators would discover a similar issue with a Delphi-supplied ignition switch fitted in 1.6 million vehicles covering 2003 to 2007 model years. The issue was resolved when Delphi commenced using a different detent plunger and spring to increase the torque in the switch.

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Topics: mary barra, ceo, gm

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