General Motors came under harsh criticism on Capitol Hill Tuesday as CEO Mary Barra went before members of Congress investigating a botched GM recall.
Barra, appearing before a House committee, apologized for the 13 deaths that GM says were caused by a faulty ignition switch, as well as GM’s 10-year delay in issuing a recall. That February recall has grown to 2.6 million vehicles worldwide.
“Today’s GM will do the right thing,” said Barra, who was named CEO in January. “That begins with my sincere apologies to everyone who has been affected by this recall, especially the families and friends (of those) who lost their lives or were injured. I am deeply sorry.”
Members from both sides of the aisle attacked both GM and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal safety regulator.
“We know this: The red flags were there for GM and NHTSA to take action, but for some reason it didn’t happen,” said Tim Murphy, a Republican. “To borrow a phrase, what we have here is a failure to communicate, and the results were deadly.”
Democrat Diana DeGette said that GM elected not to replace a part that would have cost 57 cents a car because of cost and the lack of “an acceptable business case.”
“The company continued to sell cars knowing they were unsafe,” DeGette said. “We’re going to get to the bottom of this.”
Barra said the statements in GM documents from 2005 that GM elected not to do a fix because it was too expensive were “very disturbing.”
“If that’s the reason the decision was made, that is not acceptable,” she said. “That is not the way we do business today.”
She admitted the company had been operating under a “cost culture” in the days before the 2009 bankruptcy, but said today it is operating under a “customer culture.”
When asked about when GM knew of problems and why decisions were made, she repeatedly said she did not know the answer.
“That’s why we are doing a full and complete investigation,” she said.
Earlier Tuesday, family members of people who were killed in some of the recalled cars held a press conference on Capitol Hill calling for GM to take the cars off the roads until it can make the fixes. GM expects to start repairing the ignition switch next week, and has said it is safe for people to drive them until then, as long as they don’t have any other keys on their key ring.
The faulty ignition switch can cause the car to shut off while driving, which will disable the airbag, power steering and anti-lock brakes.
Barra met privately with some of the family members at GM’s Washington office Monday evening and apologized to them in person.
Barra’s testimony came the day after GM announced yet another recall of 1.3 million U.S. cars to fix problems with the power steering. Some of the cars are among those covered by the ignition switch recall.
The latest recall brings total recalls by GM up to nearly 7 million vehicles so far this year.
By Chris Isidore