EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

World/National News

April 2, 2014

13 GM traffic deaths are tied to a 57-cent part

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 dangerous 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 in traffic, disabling the power steering, power brakes and air bags and making it difficult to control the vehicle. The automaker said new switches should be available starting April 7.

Barra was firm, 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.

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