| WASHINGTON/DETROIT, March 31
WASHINGTON/DETROIT, March 31 A U.S.
congressional probe is focusing on why General Motors Co
employees repeatedly approved substandard ignition switches
linked to at least 13 fatalities, as the automaker on Monday
announced another major recall, this time related to power
On the eve of a high-profile hearing before a House of
Representatives panel, GM said it is recalling more than 1.5
million additional vehicles globally. That brings its total
recalls so far this year to more than 6 million.
The Detroit-based automaker says it is taking an aggressive
stance on safety issues, after coming under intense criticism
for waiting more than a decade to recall millions of cars with
potentially faulty ignition switches.
On Monday, Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce
Committee released details of some of the more than 200,000
pages of documents they have received from GM and a federal
The lawmakers said they want answers as to why GM employees
approved for production ignition switches that failed to meet
company standards. These faulty switches can cause engines to
stall during operation, which also disables airbags, power
steering and power brakes.
Lawmakers are also exploring whether another 14 fatalities
could be connected to the faulty ignition switches, citing data
from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
regarding newer models of the recalled cars.
Those deaths occurred in accidents with vehicles displaying
some of the same problems as those in the earlier fatalities.
The additional 14 deaths occurred after the 13 fatalities
that GM has connected to defective ignition switches.
GM CEO Mary Barra, who is set to appear before the House
panel on Tuesday, in prepared testimony extended her "sincere
apologies" to those affected by the recall, "especially to the
families and friends of those who lost their lives or were
FIXING THE SWITCH
The bad publicity around the defective ignition switches has
tarnished GM's reputation even as the automaker moved to close
the chapter on its 2009 bankruptcy and $49.5 billion U.S.
With last year's launch of a redesigned version of its
highly profitable large pickup trucks and the recent
reintroduction of a quarterly dividend, many analysts had begun
touting the company's stock.
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Lawmakers on Monday highlighted inconsistencies regarding
the role of a key GM engineer, Ray DeGiorgio, in a decision in
2006 to revise the design of the ignition switch.
The change was made to the portion of the switch that holds
the ignition key in place as it clicks between off, accessory
and on positions, called the detent plunger and spring.
In an April 2013 deposition related to a crash in Georgia
involving a recalled GM car, DeGiorgio said the company
"certainly did not approve a detent plunger design change" for
the 2006 replacement ignition switches.
However, Representative Henry Waxman and other senior
Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee said on
Monday that "GM has provided the panel with documentation
verifying that a Ray DeGiorgio, lead design engineer for the
Cobalt ignition switch, signed off on a Delphi ignition switch
change on April 26, 2006."
GM declined to make DeGiorgio available for comment on
'WE WILL FIND OUT'
Barra and NHTSA acting Administrator David Friedman are set
to testify on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to an Energy and Commerce
subcommittee and on Wednesday to a Senate panel.
In recent weeks, as more problems have surfaced with GM's
ignition switches, the company has expanded its car recalls. The
U.S. Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation
and several lawsuits have been filed against the company.
In Barra's opening statement that she plans to deliver on
Tuesday, she said: "I cannot tell you why it took years for a
safety defect to be announced in that (small car) program, but I
can tell you that we will find out."
The automaker has asked Delphi Automotive,
manufacturer of the switch, to add a third production line to
build the replacement parts to speed the recall, Barra said. GM
previously said it expected to replace switches in all recalled
cars by around October, but a spokesman said the recall's
expansion on Friday may delay that.
Included in the recall are the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn
Friedman, in his prepared testimony, pointed a finger at GM,
saying the automaker "had critical information that would have
helped identify this defect."
He called the GM probe "a difficult case," but defended his
agency's actions. "We are not aware of any information to
suggest that NHTSA failed to properly carry out its safety
mission based on the data available to it and the process it
followed," Friedman said.
However, an October 2011 audit by the Department of
Transportation's inspector general found that NHTSA "lacks
systematic processes" for tracking consumer complaints, ensuring
timely investigations of defect complaints and training
investigators. The agency argues it has made improvements since
QUESTIONS ABOUT 'FIX'
Delphi said the redesigned switches used in 2008-2011 models
of the recalled GM vehicles still did not meet GM standards,
according to the documents handed over to Congress.
"This information raises important new questions about what
GM knew, when GM knew about the risks from this faulty ignition
switch, and how the company has handled the recalls of affected
vehicles, including the recall of the 2008-2011 model year
vehicles that was announced just three days ago," senior
Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee said.
A GM spokesman said that while Monday's recall regarding a
loss of power steering included several models affected by the
defective ignition switches, the issue was not related.
GM said it was aware of "some crashes and injuries" related
to the issue, but no fatalities.
The Detroit automaker said it will now take a charge in the
first quarter of about $750 million, mostly for the recalls it
has announced including the defective switches. That is up from
$300 million it previously disclosed.
(Additional reporting by Eric Beech in Washington; editing by
Karey Van Hall and G Crosse)