By Ben Klayman
DETROIT, March 5 General Motors Co is
moving to learn more internally about its handling of the recall
of ignition switches linked to 13 deaths, including questioning
employees involved in the process from the start, according to
two people familiar with the situation.
A team of attorneys investigating the No. 1 U.S. automaker's
recall of more than 1.6 million vehicles were interviewing
employees on Wednesday, trying to learn exactly how the company
handled the issue when it was first discovered in 2004, said the
people, who asked not to be identified.
GM spokesman Greg Martin did not reveal details of the
company's internal probe but pointed to Chief Executive Mary
Barra's letter to employees on Tuesday, in which she said the
company would take an "unvarnished" look at how the process was
Barra said in the letter that she was leading a team of
senior executives that is directing GM's response to the recall,
as well as, monitoring progress and making adjustments as
needed. She stressed that customer satisfaction is paramount in
Also on Tuesday, GM said it received a 27-page list of 107
questions from U.S. safety regulators at the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration about the company's handling of
the recall. NHTSA opened a probe last week into whether GM
reacted swiftly enough in its recall. The request directs the
Detroit company to respond by April 3.
In its "special order" to GM's director of product
investigations and safety regulations, Carmen Benavides, NHTSA
asked for details on the recall, including the names of all GM
employees involved in the process from the start. The document
was posted online on Wednesday.
"We are a data-driven organization, and we will take
whatever action is appropriate based on where our findings lead
us," NHTSA said in a statement on Wednesday.
The safety agency also asked for details of the problem with
the ignition switch, any related warranty data, and any lawsuits
filed in connection with the issue, including copies of
depositions given by company employees.
NHTSA cited a previous comment by North American chief Alan
Batey, in which the executive said GM's process on the issue
"was not as robust as it should have been" and asked the company
to detail where it fell short.
In a statement on Wednesday, the company said, "As we have
previously stated, we are fully cooperating with NHTSA and we
welcome the opportunity to help the agency have a full
understanding of the facts."
"In addition to getting NHTSA the information they need, we
are doing what we can now to ensure our customers' safety and
peace of mind," GM added. "We want our customers to know that
today's GM is committed to fixing this problem in a manner that
earns their trust."
GM, which went through a bankruptcy restructuring in 2009,
could face a maximum fine of $35 million if it failed to notify
NHTSA within five days of a recall after learning of a vehicle
safety defect. Last month, the company recalled a total of more
than 1.6 million vehicles, mostly in North America.
The company did not say how much the recall would cost.
Analysts have said the biggest cost could result from the flurry
of lawsuits likely to be triggered by the defect and the
GM's recall was to correct a condition that may allow the
engine and other components, including front airbags, to be
unintentionally turned off.
GM previously said the weight on the key ring, road
conditions or some other jarring event may cause the ignition
switch to move out of the "run" position, turning off the engine
and most of the car's electrical components. GM has recommended
that owners use only the ignition key with nothing else on the
The company said last week that the initial replacement
parts will be available in early April.
At a conference outside Detroit about recalls and warranty
costs, Neil Skaar, an analyst in GM's product development
quality operations, said the automaker from top executives down
is focused on getting the replacement parts to customers as fast
"Mark Reuss on down are directly involved in making sure
we're all rowing in the same direction," he said, referring to
GM's global product development chief. Skaar is not involved in
the company's probe of the recall.
He said at the conference that GM dealers cannot sell any
new cars that have been recalled and the company was in touch
with its dealers to emphasize that any used cars would also be
repaired under the recall as required by law before they are
Skaar said industry completion rates for getting cars
repaired under recalls are typically in the 70 percent to 80
percent range, but GM achieves better rates than that.
Last month, GM said it was recalling 778,562 Chevrolet
Cobalt and Pontiac G5 compact cars from model years 2005 through
2007. Last week, it added 842,103 Saturn Ion compact cars from
2003 through 2007 model years, Chevy HHR midsized vehicles from
2006 and 2007, and the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky sports
cars from 2006 and 2007.
Of the cars recalled, 1,367,146 vehicles are in the United
States, 235,855 are in Canada, 15,073 are in Mexico and 2,591
were exported outside North America, according to GM.
GM no longer makes any of the affected models.