On Tuesday, April 1, 2014, General Motors’ CEO, Mary Barra, was pressed for details on what the company knew about the defect and for how long at the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing.
Since February, GM has recalled more than 6 million vehicles globally for various issues. However, at the heart of this meeting was what really took place nearly 10 years ago when the first reports of failing air bags were filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Did GM take the necessary steps or not? Why didn’t the NHTSA issue a recall in 2005 when they were aware of the problem?
Since the initial recall announcement, Barra has remained apologetic and said at the hearing “I consider this to be an extraordinary event…and we are responding to it in an extraordinary way.”
She went on to say that the way GM handled the faulty ignition switch problem in 2005 Chevy Cobalt models was “unacceptable,” and “very disturbing.”
According to documents supplied to a congressional subcommittee by Delphi, the original ignition switch manufacturer, project engineer for the Cobalt ignition switch Ray DeGiorgio signed off on a design switch change in 2006. However, in 2013, DeGiorgio testified that he was not aware of any design change. Nonetheless, such documentation indicates that GM took some active steps toward a timely correction.
A subcommittee also analyzed GM’s warranty complaint database, which tracks complaints made by owners whose vehicles are still under warranty. It was revealed that at least 133 complaints had been made about vehicles stalling when the ignition switch was jarred or when the vehicle went over a bump on the road. More than 85 complaints involved the Saturn Ion while 22 were about the Chevrolet Cobalt.
Barra confirms that GM has retained a lawyer to oversee victims’ compensation claims and an internal investigation is scheduled to take place with Barra at the helm of the effort in cooperation with a second attorney.
GM will not be held liable for any deaths that occurred before the auto manufacturer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009. One day before Barra spoke in front of the congressional committee, she met with 22 families who had lost a loved one because of vehicle defects and also apologized for their suffering at the hearing.
It could take up to 60 days for a plan of action to be set for victims’ compensation, but Barra emphasized that a new “standard” will be set in management of the issue.