GM chief Mary Barra has apologised for the US automaker’s failure to fix defective ignition switches linked to 13 deaths and has vowed the company will “do the right thing”.
The manufacturer is under fire for not recalling Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other General Motors models over the past decade, despite its own technical evidence that the cars were potentially deadly. GM eventually issued mass recalls this year.
Barra said GM has acknowledged the problem, launched an exhaustive review to determine what and who is responsible, and pledged top-to-bottom changes in shifting from a “cost culture” to a focus on safety and quality.
“Today’s GM will do the right thing,” she told an investigations panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in Washington.
“That begins with my sincere apologies to everyone who has been affected by this recall,” she added. “I am deeply sorry.”
Lawmakers pointed to internal documents showing GM at first refused to change the faulty switches because doing so would have been too costly and expressed astonishment that the company went ahead with using the parts even though they did not meet GM standards.
“That is not something that I find acceptable,” Barra said.
The hearing is the first in what is likely to be a mounting pile of legal troubles for the US auto giant, including a US Justice Department probe and lawsuits from people injured and families of those who died in crashes allegedly tied to the ignition issue.
Lawmakers argued the tragedies could have been avoided if GM acted swiftly to fix a serious but inexpensive problem.
“Two dollars. That’s how little this ignition switch could have cost to repair,” said Senator Ed Markey.
“But that was apparently $2 too much for General Motors.”
Several lawmakers said GM and NHTSA repeatedly missed or ignored red flags about the problems.
Since February, GM has recalled 2.4 million cars covering model years 2005-2010 over the faulty ignitions, which can abruptly switch into “accessory” or “off” position while in drive, especially when the car is jolted.