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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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heldt666 April 01 2014 at 6:42 PM

Changing CEOs was another slick corporation move. Out with the guilty, in with the "I didn't know anything about it" new person.
It worked for the banking industry, it should work just fine for any other business that kills people with their product.
There must be a school that teaches these people how to avoid responsibility.

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ljconner April 01 2014 at 11:28 PM

This GM CEO has just started her position and why is she the one who is on the hotseat??? Bring the CEO and those knowledgable of this deadly problem in the past ten years upon charges of murder. They are the ones who should be sitting there hoping there will be no firing squad.

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1 reply
sghenry4 ljconner April 01 2014 at 11:29 PM

She's a GM lifer and was around when it all started. The buck stops at the top.

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2 replies
ljconner sghenry4 April 01 2014 at 11:38 PM

Good point but shouldn't the CEO during this time be the one in trouble too?

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Dale sghenry4 April 01 2014 at 11:48 PM

just like wallstreet and Congress working hand and hand Reid and Nancy Pelosi net worth 100 million...don't believe it...google it...Nacy and her stockholders at Dole having a good laugh...yep she is looking out for you

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lenla April 01 2014 at 11:28 PM

government controlled auto maker makes me feel really good about government controlled health insurance.

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2 replies
Dale lenla April 01 2014 at 11:46 PM

Don't worry lenla some stockholder is counting their millions laughing at you while they cash those huge bonus checks with your support....wallstreet and banks are still laughing

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johnhusselton lenla April 02 2014 at 12:44 AM

That's hitting the nail square on the head!

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bh164 April 01 2014 at 11:32 PM

i give her credit for coming forward, nothing can make up for the loss of a life... hopefully gm will rise to it old pride glory now that there is a new ceo helm .Its not what happened to you that matters.... it's what you do about it that counts . god bless the surviving families i hope you at least did right by them and the kids

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Kenny G April 01 2014 at 11:32 PM

I've worked at GM Lordstown for 30 years. If the workers had known of this proublem we (The Union) would have stopped production of the Colbolt. We would have pulled a wildcat strike un till the switches were fixed. GM's CEO had to have known about this, but her GREED for money was more importent than someone's life. Watch and see how much of a bonas she get's paid from GM this year. She knew because the CEO for GM has control of everything consering GM. This CEO should be imprisoned,if nothing else,be charged for 13 counts of MANSLAUGHTER.

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4 replies
jjkitch April 01 2014 at 11:38 PM

LOL a joke,, these men that run the companies put a woman in the place, where men will not drill her and she just smiles and moves on.. CEO my @$$ just a front.. just another woman being set up by a group of men.. LOL and you would think women would see this,, but the truth of the matter they don't and that's why they are sitting in the hot seat of most companies.. But the companies have learn this from the goverment they do the very same thing just use them.. LOL cowards..

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msmithmba April 01 2014 at 6:13 PM

I worked for GM and Delphi for 25 years. They knew all about it and did nothing. This is only the tip of the iceberg of the faulty parts that have been sent out.

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1 reply
molly2peaches msmithmba April 01 2014 at 6:28 PM

I worked for PPG making automotive paint for 26 years. Same routine except faulty paint doesn't cause crashes. It's cost cutting, required across the board, everything must be made 5% cheaper year on year. It doesn't take long before components, whether of ignition switches or a batch of paint are so crappy that they fail in use. Then everybody is passing out blame to the underlings, instead of some authority nailing the CEO to the wall, and TELLING THEM THEY ARE FIRED because the products they ordered to be made are now garbage. But they have all the while been rewarding themselves by millions of dollars for it, and planning a timely exit.

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allenseye April 01 2014 at 6:13 PM

So what is GM going to do about the Chevrolet Cruize, whos outside rear view mirrors are not designed properly so that the driver can see who is approaching on their left drivers side. The Chevrolet Cruize has zero visibility from the drivers seat of oncoming cars from the rear. They will probably do nothing about it as they also did with the '70's and 60's pickups whos gas tanks were outside the frame causing fires from a side impact killing hundreds of drivers. Finally GM sent the owners a $1,000 discount ticket if they purchased a new car. Never did fix the design problem.

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1 reply
wautoroy allenseye April 02 2014 at 1:10 AM

I guess you are talking about the blind spot in every left outside mirror, every car has and as far as not seeing anything coming up behind you I don't know what your problem is. I have a Cruze and don't have any more problems in it than any other car.

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Bob April 01 2014 at 6:13 PM

I stopped buying GM cars when I had trouble and the never acknowleged the problem until years later. The Chev Alum engine that overheated and warped the block, years later they added another cooling system. My Buick that had overheated transmission that made it slip in gear, again after no action a few years later they added a cooler to the transmission. GM never fixes problems just kicks the can down the road , later solves the problem, with a change or modification and leaves the ones who had the problem with no payment or help. Only when people die do they take notice and things like senate hearings happen. Never trust GM

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larry April 01 2014 at 6:13 PM

I was impressed with Mary Barra, the new CEO's straight-forward and direct answers to questions. Unheard of now days of Obama's administration that plead the 5th like Lois Lerner, Eric Holder and the side-stepping, Hillary Clinton during the Benghazi, Fast and Furious and IRS hearings which turned-out to be a joke. Mary Barra was NOT acting chief or CEO during the period of 7 years when these defective ignition switches were made and installed into vehicles. If you have seen some of the junk people put on their key rings, i'm surprized any ignition switch in any vehicle is still in working condition.

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