GM CEO: Changes Won’t Wait on Investigation

USA TODAY

April 1, 2014

General Motors (GM) CEO Mary Barra, in written testimony for a House subcommittee hearing today into GM's recall of 2.53 million small cars for faulty switches, says: "Sitting here today, 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."

In her testimony filed in advance, Barra promises the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight, "When we have answers, we will be fully transparent with you, with our regulators and with our customers."

When the switches fail, they shut off power to air bags. That fault has been linked by GM to 13 deaths—12 deaths in the U.S. and one in Canada.

As she and other GM executives have done repeatedly since the initial recall (since expanded twice) was announced in February, she apologized, particularly to the families of victims.

In her testimony, Barra offers "my sincere apologies to everyone who has been affected by this recall, especially to the families and friends of those who lost their lives or were injured. I am deeply sorry."

Advance testimony becomes part of the hearing record, but usually is not read in full before the panel begins its questioning.

Barra said in an interview on March 18 that the automaker deliberately separates the technical experts studying possible flaws from executives who ultimately must decide whether to issue a recall.

But, she says in her testimony, in the remarks, "As soon as I learned about the problem, we acted without hesitation. We told the world we had a problem that needed to be fixed. We did so because whatever mistakes were made in the past, we will not shirk from our responsibilities now and in the future. Today's GM will do the right thing."

She notes that GM has hired former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas "to conduct a thorough and unimpeded investigation of the actions of GM. He has free rein to go where the facts take him, regardless of the outcome."

GM first knew the switches could be a problem in 2001, during development of the 2003 Saturn Ion.

It showed up again in 2004 during final phases of development of the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt, according to a chronology that GM filed with the NHTSA.

The switch design was modified in 2006, but the new component wasn't assigned a new part number—violating General Motors procedures and, if it was part of a cover-up of a safety problem, possibly federal law. And the cars weren't recalled then.

Because of the part number issue, GM hasn't been able to accurately track which of its small cars have the safer switch.

That led to a recall expansion on Friday, adding 824,000 vehicles.

Among other points in her prepared testimony is scheduled to be delivered at 2 p.m. ET today.

"We will hold ourselves fully accountable. However, I want to stress that I'm not waiting for (Mr. Valukas') results to make changes. I've named a new vice president for Global Vehicle Safety, Jeff Boyer. This is a first for GM.

"Jeff's first priority is to quickly identify and resolve any and all product safety issues. He is not taking on this task alone. I stand with him. My senior management team stands with him. And we will welcome input from outside GM—from you, from NHTSA, from Mr. Valukas' findings, from our customers, from our dealers, and from our current and former employees."

"This latest round of recalls demonstrates just how serious we are about the way we will do things at the new GM. We identified these issues. We brought them forward, and we are fixing them. I have asked our team to keep stressing the system at GM and work with one thing in mind -- our customers and their safety are at the center of everything we do."

"Our supplier is manufacturing new replacement parts for the vehicles that are no longer in production. We have commissioned two and asked for a third production line, and those parts will start to be delivered to dealers as soon as possible."

"I'm a second-generation GM employee and I'm here as the CEO, but I'm also here representing the men and women who are part of today's GM and are dedicated to putting the highest-quality and safest vehicles on the road."

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