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Lawmakers press GM on report’s findings

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers expressed disbelief Wednesday at General Motors’ explanation for why it took 11 years to recall millions of small cars with defective ignition switches, and also confronted its chief executive with evidence that the company dragged its feet on a similar safety issue in different vehicles.

CEO Mary Barra and attorney Anton Valukas, who recently released a 315-page investigative report into the recall, endured skepticism and some lecturing at a House subcommittee hearing. One member referred to the actions of some employees described in the report as “insane.”

The GM recall has triggered a deeper look at ignition switches across the auto industry. On Wednesday, the government opened an investigation into reports of defective switches in 1.2 million Chrysler vehicles.

Barra made her second appearance before the committee since GM recalled 2.6 million small cars in February. As families of some of the people who died in crashes in Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions looked on, she was again pressed on whether GM’s commitment to safety has changed much.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., read a 2005 e-mail from a GM employee who had a 2006 Chevrolet Impala stall on her after its ignition slipped out of position while she was driving it. “I’m thinking big recall,” the employee wrote – but that recall never came until this week.

Upton asked Barra what GM would do with such an e-mail if it was sent today, and Barra said GM would take “immediate action.” GM has issued 44 recalls covering nearly 18 million cars in the U.S. this year.

Barra noted that GM has recently hired 40 more safety investors. But when she acknowledged that most of them were promoted from within GM, another member suggested GM get some “outside fresh blood.”

Lawmakers at the hearing were skeptical of many of the conclusions in Valukas’s report, which was paid for by GM and released June 5. The report found that a lone engineer, Ray DeGiorgio, was able to approve the use of a switch that didn’t meet company specifications. Years later, he ordered a change to that switch without anyone else at GM being aware.

Panel members said that defied credibility at a company with 210,000 employees. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., produced e-mails showing that other employees were informed of the change.

“I do think these documents point to the fact that the problem at GM is deeper than one rogue engineer,” she said.

Valukas said the employees notified by DeGiorgio were from the warranty area, and the change “meant nothing to them.” But he conceded his law firm did not interview everyone included in the emails.

GM blames the switches for 13 deaths, but Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said there could be up to 100 deaths associated with the problem.

Photos of some of those victims lined the back wall of the packed hearing room, and about a dozen relatives of victims attended the hearing.

GM is establishing a compensation fund for those killed or injured because of the switches, and Barra said Wednesday there will be no cap on the amount the fund can pay out. Attorney Kenneth Feinberg is still determining who will qualify for compensation, she said. GM expects to start taking claims Aug. 1.

“We want to capture every single person who suffered injury or lost a loved one,” Barra said.

But Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., said GM’s lawyers are trying to use the company’s 2009 bankruptcy to thwart lawsuits. He said GM wants to force victims from pre-bankruptcy crashes to accept its settlement offers or risk getting little compensation.

Barra didn’t directly respond to Griffith’s complaint.

The ignition switch in Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other cars could move out of the run position because of a heavy keychain or a bump of a knee. That causes the engine to stall, cuts off power-assisted steering and brakes and disables the air bags.

GM took years to make the connection between the switches and the air bag non-deployment. Valukas said a culture that prevented information sharing and discouraged people from taking action on problems was partly to blame.

Valukas said GM engineers also viewed the ignition switch malfunctions and engine stalling as a “customer convenience issue” rather than a safety problem, believing drivers could adequately control their cars without power steering and power brakes.

“That’s just insane, isn’t it?” DeGette asked Valukas.

“I don’t want to use the word insane, but I’m deeply troubled by that,” he replied.

Barra confirmed GM has dismissed 15 people who “didn’t take action, or didn’t move with urgency” to solve the ignition problems. DeGette said she has heard there is “more paranoia” within the company since the Valukas report came out.

But Barra said she is also encouraging employees to speak up about potential safety issues and is rewarding – not punishing – those who do. She said she has already gotten dozens of emails from employees reporting safety concerns.

Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, said he thinks more than 15 should have been terminated, based on what he read in the Valukas report.

GM paid the maximum $35 million fine to the government in May for failing to disclose the problem sooner. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., said that’s not enough of a deterrent for a company like GM, which earned $3.8 billion last year. A bill now in the Senate would lift the cap on government fines.

Tonko said the government’s regulatory agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, needs more detailed data from automakers to help track safety problems.

NHTSA admitted during April testimony that it was contacting other automakers and suppliers to find out how their ignition switches interact with air bags. That could lead to even more ignition-related recalls. On Wednesday, the agency opened an investigation into switches on 1.2 million Chrysler vehicles after getting complaints that the cars can suddenly stall and the air bags won’t inflate in a crash.

Durbin and Krisher reported from Detroit.

Lawmakers press GM on report’s findings

KDWN

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers expressed disbelief Wednesday at General Motors’ explanation for why it took 11 years to recall millions of small cars with defective ignition switches, and also confronted its chief executive with evidence that the company dragged its feet on a similar safety issue in different vehicles.

CEO Mary Barra and attorney Anton Valukas, who recently released a 315-page investigative report into the recall, endured skepticism and some lecturing at a House subcommittee hearing. One member referred to the actions of some employees described in the report as “insane.”

The GM recall has triggered a deeper look at ignition switches across the auto industry. On Wednesday, the government opened an investigation into reports of defective switches in 1.2 million Chrysler vehicles.

Barra made her second appearance before the committee since GM recalled 2.6 million small cars in February. As families of some of the people who died in crashes in Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions looked on, she was again pressed on whether GM’s commitment to safety has changed much.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., read a 2005 e-mail from a GM employee who had a 2006 Chevrolet Impala stall on her after its ignition slipped out of position while she was driving it. “I’m thinking big recall,” the employee wrote – but that recall never came until this week.

Upton asked Barra what GM would do with such an e-mail if it was sent today, and Barra said GM would take “immediate action.” GM has issued 44 recalls covering nearly 18 million cars in the U.S. this year.

Barra noted that GM has recently hired 40 more safety investors. But when she acknowledged that most of them were promoted from within GM, another member suggested GM get some “outside fresh blood.”

Lawmakers at the hearing were skeptical of many of the conclusions in Valukas’s report, which was paid for by GM and released June 5. The report found that a lone engineer, Ray DeGiorgio, was able to approve the use of a switch that didn’t meet company specifications. Years later, he ordered a change to that switch without anyone else at GM being aware.

Panel members said that defied credibility at a company with 210,000 employees. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., produced e-mails showing that other employees were informed of the change.

“I do think these documents point to the fact that the problem at GM is deeper than one rogue engineer,” she said.

Valukas said the employees notified by DeGiorgio were from the warranty area, and the change “meant nothing to them.” But he conceded his law firm did not interview everyone included in the emails.

GM blames the switches for 13 deaths, but Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said there could be up to 100 deaths associated with the problem.

Photos of some of those victims lined the back wall of the packed hearing room, and about a dozen relatives of victims attended the hearing.

GM is establishing a compensation fund for those killed or injured because of the switches, and Barra said Wednesday there will be no cap on the amount the fund can pay out. Attorney Kenneth Feinberg is still determining who will qualify for compensation, she said. GM expects to start taking claims Aug. 1.

“We want to capture every single person who suffered injury or lost a loved one,” Barra said.

But Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., said GM’s lawyers are trying to use the company’s 2009 bankruptcy to thwart lawsuits. He said GM wants to force victims from pre-bankruptcy crashes to accept its settlement offers or risk getting little compensation.

Barra didn’t directly respond to Griffith’s complaint.

The ignition switch in Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other cars could move out of the run position because of a heavy keychain or a bump of a knee. That causes the engine to stall, cuts off power-assisted steering and brakes and disables the air bags.

GM took years to make the connection between the switches and the air bag non-deployment. Valukas said a culture that prevented information sharing and discouraged people from taking action on problems was partly to blame.

Valukas said GM engineers also viewed the ignition switch malfunctions and engine stalling as a “customer convenience issue” rather than a safety problem, believing drivers could adequately control their cars without power steering and power brakes.

“That’s just insane, isn’t it?” DeGette asked Valukas.

“I don’t want to use the word insane, but I’m deeply troubled by that,” he replied.

Barra confirmed GM has dismissed 15 people who “didn’t take action, or didn’t move with urgency” to solve the ignition problems. DeGette said she has heard there is “more paranoia” within the company since the Valukas report came out.

But Barra said she is also encouraging employees to speak up about potential safety issues and is rewarding – not punishing – those who do. She said she has already gotten dozens of emails from employees reporting safety concerns.

Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, said he thinks more than 15 should have been terminated, based on what he read in the Valukas report.

GM paid the maximum $35 million fine to the government in May for failing to disclose the problem sooner. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., said that’s not enough of a deterrent for a company like GM, which earned $3.8 billion last year. A bill now in the Senate would lift the cap on government fines.

Tonko said the government’s regulatory agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, needs more detailed data from automakers to help track safety problems.

NHTSA admitted during April testimony that it was contacting other automakers and suppliers to find out how their ignition switches interact with air bags. That could lead to even more ignition-related recalls. On Wednesday, the agency opened an investigation into switches on 1.2 million Chrysler vehicles after getting complaints that the cars can suddenly stall and the air bags won’t inflate in a crash.

Durbin and Krisher reported from Detroit.

Lawmakers press GM on report’s findings

KDWN

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers expressed disbelief Wednesday at General Motors’ explanation for why it took 11 years to recall millions of small cars with defective ignition switches, and also confronted its chief executive with evidence that the company dragged its feet on a similar safety issue in different vehicles.

CEO Mary Barra and attorney Anton Valukas, who recently released a 315-page investigative report into the recall, endured skepticism and some lecturing at a House subcommittee hearing. One member referred to the actions of some employees described in the report as “insane.”

The GM recall has triggered a deeper look at ignition switches across the auto industry. On Wednesday, the government opened an investigation into reports of defective switches in 1.2 million Chrysler vehicles.

Barra made her second appearance before the committee since GM recalled 2.6 million small cars in February. As families of some of the people who died in crashes in Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions looked on, she was again pressed on whether GM’s commitment to safety has changed much.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., read a 2005 e-mail from a GM employee who had a 2006 Chevrolet Impala stall on her after its ignition slipped out of position while she was driving it. “I’m thinking big recall,” the employee wrote – but that recall never came until this week.

Upton asked Barra what GM would do with such an e-mail if it was sent today, and Barra said GM would take “immediate action.” GM has issued 44 recalls covering nearly 18 million cars in the U.S. this year.

Barra noted that GM has recently hired 40 more safety investors. But when she acknowledged that most of them were promoted from within GM, another member suggested GM get some “outside fresh blood.”

Lawmakers at the hearing were skeptical of many of the conclusions in Valukas’s report, which was paid for by GM and released June 5. The report found that a lone engineer, Ray DeGiorgio, was able to approve the use of a switch that didn’t meet company specifications. Years later, he ordered a change to that switch without anyone else at GM being aware.

Panel members said that defied credibility at a company with 210,000 employees. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., produced e-mails showing that other employees were informed of the change.

“I do think these documents point to the fact that the problem at GM is deeper than one rogue engineer,” she said.

Valukas said the employees notified by DeGiorgio were from the warranty area, and the change “meant nothing to them.” But he conceded his law firm did not interview everyone included in the emails.

GM blames the switches for 13 deaths, but Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said there could be up to 100 deaths associated with the problem.

Photos of some of those victims lined the back wall of the packed hearing room, and about a dozen relatives of victims attended the hearing.

GM is establishing a compensation fund for those killed or injured because of the switches, and Barra said Wednesday there will be no cap on the amount the fund can pay out. Attorney Kenneth Feinberg is still determining who will qualify for compensation, she said. GM expects to start taking claims Aug. 1.

“We want to capture every single person who suffered injury or lost a loved one,” Barra said.

But Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., said GM’s lawyers are trying to use the company’s 2009 bankruptcy to thwart lawsuits. He said GM wants to force victims from pre-bankruptcy crashes to accept its settlement offers or risk getting little compensation.

Barra didn’t directly respond to Griffith’s complaint.

The ignition switch in Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other cars could move out of the run position because of a heavy keychain or a bump of a knee. That causes the engine to stall, cuts off power-assisted steering and brakes and disables the air bags.

GM took years to make the connection between the switches and the air bag non-deployment. Valukas said a culture that prevented information sharing and discouraged people from taking action on problems was partly to blame.

Valukas said GM engineers also viewed the ignition switch malfunctions and engine stalling as a “customer convenience issue” rather than a safety problem, believing drivers could adequately control their cars without power steering and power brakes.

“That’s just insane, isn’t it?” DeGette asked Valukas.

“I don’t want to use the word insane, but I’m deeply troubled by that,” he replied.

Barra confirmed GM has dismissed 15 people who “didn’t take action, or didn’t move with urgency” to solve the ignition problems. DeGette said she has heard there is “more paranoia” within the company since the Valukas report came out.

But Barra said she is also encouraging employees to speak up about potential safety issues and is rewarding – not punishing – those who do. She said she has already gotten dozens of emails from employees reporting safety concerns.

Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, said he thinks more than 15 should have been terminated, based on what he read in the Valukas report.

GM paid the maximum $35 million fine to the government in May for failing to disclose the problem sooner. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., said that’s not enough of a deterrent for a company like GM, which earned $3.8 billion last year. A bill now in the Senate would lift the cap on government fines.

Tonko said the government’s regulatory agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, needs more detailed data from automakers to help track safety problems.

NHTSA admitted during April testimony that it was contacting other automakers and suppliers to find out how their ignition switches interact with air bags. That could lead to even more ignition-related recalls. On Wednesday, the agency opened an investigation into switches on 1.2 million Chrysler vehicles after getting complaints that the cars can suddenly stall and the air bags won’t inflate in a crash.

Durbin and Krisher reported from Detroit.

Lawmakers press GM on report’s findings

KDWN

WASHINGTON (AP) — House members questioned whether the culture at General Motors could truly change, and whether the dismissal of 15 employees was enough, as they grilled CEO Mary Barra about the actions she’s taken since GM admitted that it failed to act on a deadly safety issue for more than a decade.

A House subcommittee heard testimony Wednesday from Barra and attorney Anton Valukas, who recently completed an internal investigation on GM’s mishandled recall of 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalts and other cars.

Panel members wanted to know why it took GM so long to recall the cars, which have defective ignition switches. GM blames the switches for at least 13 deaths, but Rep. Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, said she thinks there could be up to 100 deaths associated with the problem.

Lawmakers sought reassurances that GM will act faster in the future, and provided evidence that the Cobalt recall wasn’t the only one where GM was slow to take action.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., read a 2005 e-mail from a GM employee who was driving a 2006 Chevrolet Impala that stalled because the ignition switch unexpectedly slipped out of the “run” position. The employee suggested a “big recall” should be conducted and recommended that the part be made stronger. But the 2006 Impala wasn’t recalled for the problem until this week.

Upton asked Barra what GM would do with such an e-mail if it was sent today. The CEO said if GM determined the stalling happened because of a problem with a car part, “then we’ll take immediate action.” She said this week’s recall of 3.4 million large cars was an example of how the company now reacts.

But lawmakers said they need to know more, and were skeptical of some of the conclusions in Valukas’s 315-page report, which was paid for by GM and made public on June 5. The report found that a lone engineer, Ray DeGiorgio, was able to approve the use of a switch that didn’t meet company specifications, and years later, ordered a change to that switch without anyone else at GM being aware.

“The report does not answer all the key questions. It does not fully explain how the ignition switch was approved without meeting specifications and then redesigned in 2006,” said DeGette.

The ignition switch in Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other cars could move out of the run position because of a heavy keychain or a bump of a knee, GM has said. That causes the engine to stall, and cuts off power-assisted steering and brakes, and also disables the air bags. Valukas found that GM engineers failed to consider stalling a safety issue.

Others took years to make the connection between the switches and the air bag non-deployment. Valukas said a culture that prevented information sharing and discouraged people from taking action on problems was partly to blame.

Lawmakers were still left to wonder about the origins of those issues.

“It does not fully explain why stalling was not considered a safety issue within GM. And most troubling, the report does not fully explain how this dysfunctional company culture took root and persisted,” DeGette said.

DeGette said senior executives, including Barra, should have acted sooner to change the company’s culture.

She also said she has heard there is “more paranoia” within the company since Valukas’s report was published because employees are worried that they will lose their jobs.

Barra confirmed GM has dismissed 15 people connected with the recall and has initiated a safety review that has led to a record 44 recalls of 18 million cars in the U.S. so far this year.

But Barra said she is also encouraging people to speak up about potential safety issues and is rewarding – not punishing – those who do. She said she is already getting emails from employees reporting safety concerns.

“I never want anyone associated with GM to forget what happened,” Barra said in her prepared remarks. “This is not another business challenge. This is a tragic problem that should never have happened and must never happen again.”

Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., questioned GM’s resolve to change, noting that most of the 40 safety investigators GM has recently hired are from within GM.

“I would strongly suggest that you look at bringing in some outside fresh blood,” he said.

Barra responded that the investigators are some of GM’s best engineers, and that the vast majority of GM employees are as troubled by the recall investigation as she is.

“They want to do the right thing. They want to produce high quality and safe vehicles,” she said.

Krisher reported from Detroit. AP Auto Writer Dee-Ann Durbin contributed from Detroit.

Lawmakers press GM on report’s findings

KDWN

WASHINGTON (AP) — House members say they still have many questions about General Motors’ delayed recall of small cars, including whether the company’s culture has truly changed.

A House subcommittee heard testimony Wednesday from GM CEO Mary Barra and attorney Anton Valukas, who recently completed an internal investigation on the recall of 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalts and other cars.

Congress wants to know why it took GM more than a decade to recall the cars, which have defective ignition switches. GM blames the switches for 13 deaths.

It’s Barra’s second appearance before the committee. In April, Barra appeared but deferred many questions until Valukas’s report was completed. Valukas turned in the 315-page report earlier this month.

The report concludes that a lone engineer, Ray DeGiorgio, was able to approve the use of a switch that didn’t meet company specifications, and years later, ordered a change to that switch without anyone else at GM being aware.

But lawmakers say they need to know more.

“The report does not answer all the key questions. It does not fully explain how the ignition switch was approved without meeting specifications and then redesigned in 2006,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, a Democrat from Colorado. “It does not fully explain why stalling was not considered a safety issue within GM. And most troubling, the report does not fully explain how this dysfunctional company culture took root and persisted.”

DeGette said senior executives, including Barra, should have acted sooner to change the company’s culture.

Republican Rep. Fred Upton says this week’s recall of another 3.4 million cars with faulty ignitions shows the problem didn’t end with the first recall.

Barra assured lawmakers that she was deeply disturbed by the report’s conclusions and has taken immediate action. The company has dismissed 15 people connected with the recall and has initiated a safety review that has led to a record 44 recalls of 18 million cars in the U.S. so far this year.

“I never want anyone associated with GM to forget what happened,” Barra said. “This is not another business challenge. This is a tragic problem that should never have happened and must never happen again.”

Krisher reported from Detroit. AP Auto Writer Dee-Ann Durbin contributed from Detroit.

Lawmakers press GM on report’s findings

KDWN

WASHINGTON (AP) — House members say they still have many questions about General Motors’ delayed recall of small cars, including whether the company’s culture has truly changed.

A House subcommittee heard testimony Wednesday from GM CEO Mary Barra and attorney Anton Valukas, who recently completed an internal investigation on the recall of 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalts and other cars.

Congress wants to know why it took GM more than a decade to recall the cars, which have defective ignition switches. GM blames the switches for 13 deaths.

It’s Barra’s second appearance before the committee. In April, Barra appeared but deferred many questions until Valukas’s report was completed. Valukas turned in the 315-page report earlier this month.

The report concludes that a lone engineer, Ray DeGiorgio, was able to approve the use of a switch that didn’t meet company specifications, and years later, ordered a change to that switch without anyone else at GM being aware.

But lawmakers say they need to know more.

“The report does not answer all the key questions. It does not fully explain how the ignition switch was approved without meeting specifications and then redesigned in 2006,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, a Democrat from Colorado. “It does not fully explain why stalling was not considered a safety issue within GM. And most troubling, the report does not fully explain how this dysfunctional company culture took root and persisted.”

DeGette said senior executives, including Barra, should have acted sooner to change the company’s culture.

Republican Rep. Fred Upton says this week’s recall of another 3.4 million cars with faulty ignitions shows the problem didn’t end with the first recall.

Barra assured lawmakers that she was deeply disturbed by the report’s conclusions and has taken immediate action. The company has dismissed 15 people connected with the recall and has initiated a safety review that has led to a record 44 recalls of 18 million cars in the U.S. so far this year.

“I never want anyone associated with GM to forget what happened,” Barra said. “This is not another business challenge. This is a tragic problem that should never have happened and must never happen again.”

Krisher reported from Detroit. AP Auto Writer Dee-Ann Durbin contributed from Detroit.