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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.

Join the discussion

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pontificio April 01 2014 at 9:31 PM

Our elected representatives were too hard on Barra. They owe her a professional courtesy for having been cut from the same cloth. Barra should run for office after she loses her job as CEO at GM. She talked just like the kind of people who confuse voters enough to put her in office. How did her statement "clearly there were a lot of things happening at that time" answered the question why GM didn't replace the switch on all the cars that were already on the road?

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tlw307 April 01 2014 at 7:29 PM

Just more junk passed off on GM customers. I have a 2006 Chevy Cobalt and am now on the fifth recall on this car. I purchased the car new and am the only owner the car has less than 70,000 miles on it and has been in the shop seven times now. Let me say this save your money and do not purchase GM products. Up until this car I was a loyal GM person, I will never own another GM product again. The front stabilizer arms have been replaced on both sides, the steering column was replaced, the radio was replaced and is messed up again, the fuel pump has been replaced and now the ignition switch is to be replaced. I have had to get tires six times now and still do not have high mileage on this car. I have had the front checked several times and have been told that nothing is wrong. Something is wrong or I would not have to keep replacing the tires, and the tires I get are not the cheap tires. Gm had to be bailed out by us the American people yet they give us excuses and junk products. No car that has less than 100,000 miles should need to be put in the shop. My husband has a 2006 Sonota and the only thing he has had to have done is to replace the brakes, that is something that I have had to have done on my Cobalt as well. If GM wants to continue to be in business than I would suggest that they invest in higher quality and better end products as well as better customer service. No one should have to invest in poor quality. To have known about this for ten years and did nothing is inexcusable. That thirteen people have lost their lives and been taken from loved ones due to GM putting profits ahead of service is criminal. How would those who made these choices feel if this had happened to one of their loved ones, it would have been a different story then. There is no excuse. When a company puts profits over safety then they need to be held responsible. They put a known defective product out for their customers and it has caused people their lives, the ones who made this choice should be held criminally responsible and should serve time in prison for this choice.

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1 reply
advantedges tlw307 April 01 2014 at 8:01 PM

Why would your issues be with the New GM? the New CEO said it well = this did not happen on her watch. It DID HAPPEN on US GOVERNMENTS Watch! The Congress should be Holding hearings with the People who ran GM during the time period in question when GM manufactured the defective cars. The New CEO was basically saying that: "We are investigating what happened, (and when!)" Congress should set aside funding for the claims that will be coming in from the results of that investigation. Perhaps they can all take a pay cut to compensate the loved ones that you mention. Wonder if the legal community has figured out this angle on this tragic story? When they do, lawsuits will fly, unless the government issued a "Hold Harmless" Order when they spun off GM to the private sector!

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1 reply
sghenry4 advantedges April 01 2014 at 8:12 PM

She's a lifer and was upper management when all this started. All the morons in charge at the time are now in Hilton Head or Boca Raton laughing all the way to the bank on their gold plated retirement.

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danwinter56 April 01 2014 at 7:28 PM

I wonder if GM will get sued like
Toyota did ?

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makinstarzshine April 01 2014 at 7:28 PM

I have a 2006 Chevy HHR, got the letter from GM, but as far as getting it fixed, ive been getting nothing but the run around, I called the number on the letter again, and the person on the phone said they would be calling me back, and maybe setting up a rental car?!?!?!? yeah right!!!!! this is very annoying! My Chevy is my only car for getting around in, and they say its not safe to drive, well HOW CAN I FIX THIS!!!!! SEND ME THE PART SO I CAN HAVE SOMEONE DO IT SHEESH, I HAVE KIDS AND WANT THEM TO BE SAFE!!!!!

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madddddddddddddd April 01 2014 at 7:27 PM

this is has gone on in all the car mfgs, in usa,, since at least the 1960s, go after all of them, if u can,, the statute has run

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jmanning623 April 01 2014 at 7:27 PM

I ave a 2007 malibu, the steering goes out out on it. Why is that the only year not recalled? I GUESS IN 2007 IT DIDNT KILL AS MANY PEOPLE>!!!

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3 replies
lhonset April 01 2014 at 7:25 PM

Is this not typical of a lot of BIG businesses - tires blowing up - cars bursting into flames. Just wait soon you'll be able to get your will chicken "processed" in China (shipped from here to there and back again - gee that makes sense - and more Americans out of work). Maybe Americans will "stall" then "burst into flames" and "blow-up" all in one swell swoop".

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2 replies
riverlandranch lhonset April 01 2014 at 7:28 PM

It's already here, the fish you buy from China are raised under the chickens. That's right your fish is feeding on chicken $hit

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sheeplesuks lhonset April 01 2014 at 7:43 PM

you mean like the electric cars that burn garages and houses down???

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jano April 01 2014 at 7:25 PM

to bad she has to be 'dumped on' after alllthose old men knew all the repercusions from their past history. i suppose they will invoke 'the fifth'.

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mts622 April 01 2014 at 7:23 PM

People, you are losing sight of the issue: it isn't that GM chose to buy the parts in China, but that they knew of the problem for 10 years and chose to do NOTHING about it! Forget about getting caught up in the sub issues. That GM chose not to issue a recall when they first realized the seriousness of the problem is reprehensible!!!

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jl7503 April 01 2014 at 7:16 PM

GM should have to pay $57 million to the estates and families of EACH of the 13 victims who died for their greed. Good object lesson for them to teach them that it would have been cheaper in the long run to do the right thing.

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