(Recasts, adds Rattner comments in paragraphs 4-5, 10-11)
By Eric Beech
WASHINGTON May 21 Two former members of the
U.S. auto task force that helped restructure General Motors Co
in 2009 during its bankruptcy said they were not aware at
the time of the defective ignition switches linked to at least
Harry Wilson, speaking at a conference in Washington, said
the task force on which he served never met with lower level GM
engineers, adding that the crisis brought on by the faulty
switch showed the cultural problems at the largest U.S.
"We didn't know about anything like this," he said of the
defective part. "It seems to have been basically stuck at the
mid-level of the engineering department and not risen above
that," Wilson said at an event hosted by the Brookings
Steven Rattner, who headed the task force, said his group
would not have learned about the problem unless someone at GM
had told them.
"We were not forensic accountants. We were not FBI
investigators. We had about 40 days to do all this due
diligence. We're not going to find something like that out
unless people tell you," he said after the Brookings conference.
GM last week was fined a record $35 million by the U.S.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for its delayed
response on the faulty switch, which engineers first discovered
in 2001. The company still faces probes by the U.S. Department
of Justice, Congress, the Securities and Exchange Commission and
several states about how it handled the issue. GM also expects
to complete an internal probe within two weeks.
Wilson said the defective ignition switch and resulting
recall of 2.6 million vehicles globally showed that decisions at
the company were previously driven by the company's weak
financial condition as well as various departments, such as
legal and engineering, not communicating well with each other.
"It is sadly emblematic of the cultural problems at the
company," he said of GM. "They would do anything to save a
penny, including some really bad decisions both economically and
"From what I can tell, as evidenced by the fact that the
recall didn't become public until very recently, that still
persists, and that is something that has been a problem at
General Motors for decades that Mary really needs to attack,"
Wilson added, referring to GM Chief Executive Mary Barra.
Rattner said the culture of GM had changed for the better
but "not as much as it needs to change."
"There is still clearly work to be done. I think Mary Barra
would be the first to say that," he said.
Wilson said he thought GM's stock was "woefully
undervalued." GM's shares closed up 1.2 percent at $33.46 on
(Additional reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by
Andrew Hay and Ken Wills)