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Piece needed to fix a defective ignition switch linked to 13 deaths would have cost just 57 cents

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The fix for a faulty ignition switch linked to 13 traffic deaths would have cost just 57 cents, members of Congress said Tuesday as they demanded answers from General Motors' new CEO on why the automaker took 10 years to recall cars with the defect.

At a hearing on Capitol Hill before a House subcommittee, GM's Mary Barra acknowledged under often testy questioning that the company took too long to act. She promised changes at GM that would prevent such a lapse from happening again.

"If there's a safety issue, we're going to make the right change and accept that," said Barra, who became CEO in January and almost immediately found herself thrust into one of the biggest product safety crises Detroit has ever seen.

But as relatives of the crash victims looked on intently, she admitted that she didn't know why it took years for the safety defect to be announced. And she deflected many questions about what went wrong, saying an internal investigation is under way.

Since February, GM has recalled 2.6 million cars - mostly Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions - over the faulty switch, which can cause the engine to cut off and the vehicle to lose power steering and power brakes. The automaker said new switches should be available starting April 7.

Barra was firm but calm and polite throughout the proceedings. But she struggled at times to answer lawmakers' pointed questions, particularly about why GM used the switch when it knew the part didn't meet its own specifications.

When she tried to draw a distinction between parts that didn't meet specifications and those that were defective and dangerous, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, shot back: "What you just answered is gobbledygook."

She also announced that GM has hired Kenneth Feinberg - who handled the fund for the victims of 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombing and the BP oil spill - to explore ways to compensate victims of accidents in the GM cars. Barra stopped short of saying GM would establish such a fund.

Some of the questioners appeared surprised that Barra hadn't reviewed the tens of thousands of pages of documents that GM had submitted to the committee, and that she was unaware of some decision-making processes at the company.

Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., held up a switch for one of the cars and said a small spring inside it failed to provide enough force, causing car engines to turn off when they went over a bump.

DeGette showed how easy it was for a light set of keys to move the ignition out of the "run" position. That can cause the engine to stall and the driver to lose power steering and power brakes.

GM has said that in 2005 company engineers proposed solutions to the switch problem but that the automaker concluded that none represented "an acceptable business case."

"Documents provided by GM show that this unacceptable cost increase was only 57 cents," DeGette said.

Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, read from an e-mail exchange between GM employees and those at Delphi, which made the switch. One said that the Cobalt is "blowing up in their face in regards to the car turning off."

Murphy asked why, if the problem was so big, GM didn't replace all of them in cars already on the road.

"Clearly there were a lot of things happening" at that time, Barra said.

In his prepared remarks, David Friedman, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, pointed the finger at GM, saying the automaker had information last decade that could have led to a recall, but shared it only last month.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said that House Energy and Commerce Committee staff members found 133 warranty claims filed with GM over 10 years detailing customer complaints of sudden engine stalling when they drove over a bump or brushed keys with their knees.

The claims were filed between June 2003 and June 2012.

Waxman said that because GM didn't undertake a simple fix when it learned of the problem, "at least a dozen people have died in defective GM vehicles."

Some current GM car owners and relatives of those who died in crashes were also in Washington seeking answers. The group attended the hearing after holding a news conference demanding action against GM and stiffer legislation.

Owners can ask dealers for a loaner car while waiting for the replacement part. Barra said GM has provided more than 13,000 loaner vehicles.


Durbin reported from Detroit. Associated Press writer Marcy Gordon in Washington contributed to this report.

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bdcusa April 02 2014 at 10:10 AM


GM cars include millions with defective engine crank sensors which also cause the engine to die unexpectedly while driving. Of course the driver then ALSO does not have power steering or power brakes. This may be THE REAL REASON for the engines dieing, not the ignition switch.
Not only that, there are other car manufacturers that have this problem.

This problem is notorious with the Northstar engine and is WELL DOCUMENTED.

Why oh why is this so covered up?

Time to get serious about this biggest of problems.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
cousininmiami22 April 02 2014 at 9:58 AM

This is not the first time GM has put profits over public safety!
Sadly, it most likely will not be the last either.....

Flag Reply +1 rate up
UniquePlants April 02 2014 at 10:16 AM

I for one feel sorry for this lady. She just got the job because other people bailed and got big bucks to do the bailing.
How does Congress expect her to know what the CEO and others did before her?
Call these people to the stand. Make an example out of them. Did the Union leaders know what was going on-probably-why aren't they answering questions?
Looks like a good case of pass-the-buck to me.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
bonitabud1 April 02 2014 at 9:24 AM

Bought my last Government Motors car in 1973. It was a pile of expensive junk. It is really too bad the bammer spent all our money (sorry taxes) to save this archaic company. I will never buy a GM product again.

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1 reply
jOSEPHINE bonitabud1 April 02 2014 at 10:08 AM

had at the same experience with an Olds.. under 60,000 miles it needed three transmissions.. then the engine off, without warning, on a major highway... I purchased it new.. that was in the 1980's and I have never bought American again.. Kia great.. Hyundai, Nissan all quality.. and of course Honda

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jbelcer April 02 2014 at 9:45 AM

What about the ABS modules that causes your brakes to pulse on dry pavement etc. A lot of people have had ABS problems on GM vehicles from the same era.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
mornewz April 02 2014 at 9:14 AM

GM: Grifter Motors

Flag Reply +3 rate up
bottomtime321 April 02 2014 at 8:52 AM

What else would we expect from GM, Detroit, the Union and the Democrats.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
maxcranium April 02 2014 at 9:57 AM

I guess when your big enough, you don't go to jail for killing people.
They already knew of the problem, but money wins once again...

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1 reply
rayser711 maxcranium April 02 2014 at 10:13 AM

I have been saying the same thing for years. But the gov't wants you to believe the laws are for everyone.......That is a crock !

Flag Reply 0 rate up
JAMES April 02 2014 at 8:32 AM

so here we have it........Senators ...what .....a hundred combined can't manage their own lives....running our country down the crapper......these are the people who are grilling a ceo
about the companies mistakes ?? hey, I AM NOT saying that what GM did was right...they need to be held accountable. I just wish the senators would be as accountable to the people as they expect coporate America to be to them. Truely a tale of two worlds !!

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Hello slag bag April 02 2014 at 8:21 AM

It will always be a bean counters game...they figure the cost of litigation will be less than the fix,
however based on the cost .57 cents, x 2.6 million cars...doubtfull that the lititgation will be less than that number....

Flag Reply +2 rate up
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