(Adds GM comment In paragraphs 5-6)
WASHINGTON, April 22 Former General Motors Co
chief executives should be called to testify to the U.S.
Congress about the company's slow response to defective ignition
switches in cars that have been linked to at least 13 deaths, a
Democratic senator said on Tuesday.
Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, an outspoken
member of the Senate Commerce Committee that is investigating
GM, said there are "a whole set of questions on why there were
so many delays in taking action to remedy this situation" that
are still unanswered by the Detroit automaker.
"Of course we have to go back to the prior CEOs" who headed
GM before this year's recall of 2.6 million automobiles, he
said. The recalled vehicles have ignition switches that can
unexpectedly slip out of the "run" position, shutting off
engines, disabling air bags, power steering and power brakes.
In a telephone interview with Reuters, Blumenthal stressed
that it will be up to Senator Claire McCaskill, chairwoman of a
commerce subcommittee, to schedule the next hearings and decide
who will testify.
Asked about Blumenthal's interest in getting testimony of
former chief executives, GM spokesman James Cain repeated an
earlier statement that the company's senior leadership team was
not aware of the recall decision until Jan. 31 of this year. He
added that an internal investigation into the handling of the
ignition switch problem is under way.
"When the facts are in, we will be transparent and hold
ourselves accountable," Cain said.
Blumenthal added that "very definitely I want to hear" from
former GM CEO Daniel Akerson, who held the post from 2010 until
early this year when current CEO Mary Barra took over. During
that time, GM was conducting internal investigations into the
Separately, GM announced on Tuesday that it is restructuring
its engineering operations in a move meant to improve quality
and safety of its vehicles, and that its global vehicle
engineering chief, John Calabrese, is retiring.
Barra testified to the Senate panel on April 2, and to a
House of Representatives subcommittee on April 1. She said she
would be willing to return to Capitol Hill for more testimony.
Barra frustrated many members of Congress by testifying that
she could not answer their questions because she is so new in
the job, after decades of holding other positions within GM.
GM engineers first noticed problems more than a decade ago
with ignition switches in Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and
other GM models but did not notify consumers until this year.
(Reporting By Richard Cowan; Editing by Karey Van Hall, Peter
Henderson and Mohammad Zargham)