GM’s Handling of Ignition Switch Recall Called into Question

General Motor’s CEO, Mary Barra, went in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on April 1, 2014 to discuss the auto manufacturer’s handling of the ignition switch recall.

Barra, who took the reins of the company in January, was pressed for details about what the company knew and for how long. At one point Barra remarked, “I consider this to be an extraordinary event…and we are responding to it in an extraordinary way.” she said to the committee.

In regards to GM’s failure to fix the faulty ignition switch in the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt, Barra referred to their inactions as “unacceptable,” and “very disturbing.”

GM has recalled more than 6 million vehicles globally due to a variety of issues, however, the committee was more concerned in determining why it took nearly a decade to issue it after reports of failing air bags had been filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Did GM follow protocol on correcting the issue? If the NHTSA knew about the defect, why wasn’t a recall issued sooner? Both GM and the NHTSA are being questioned about how they handled the situation.

Delphi, the auto parts manufacturer responsible for the ignition switch, provided documents to the congressional subcommittee showing GM’s project engineer for the Chevy Cobalt ignition switch, Ray DeGiorgio, signed off on a design change in 2006. In 2013, DeGiorgio testified that he was not aware of any design change. Nonetheless, the documents still seem to indicate that GM took active steps toward correcting the issue.

GM’s warranty complaint database, which tracks every complaint sent to the company regarding vehicles under warranty, was also analyzed. The subcommittee found at least 133 complaints about vehicles stalling when the ignition switch was jarred or bumped on a bad road. Of the complaints, 22 were centered on the Chevy Cobalt while 87 were about the Saturn Ion.

Barra has confirmed that GM has retained an attorney to help oversee victims’ compensation for injury claims and the 13 deaths that were caused by the vehicle defects. Barra also called for an internal investigation with a second attorney.

General Motors will not be held responsible for any deaths that occurred before its 2009 Chapter 11 bankruptcy was filed. Barra met with 22 families who lost a loved one because of the vehicle defects and apologized to them during the congressional hearing as well.

It could take up to 60 days before a compensation plan of action is set, however, Barra notes that “a new standard will be set” in the management of the issue.