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Congress Grills GM Over Decade-Long Inaction on Recall

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April 3, 2014—Members of a U.S. Senate subcommittee questioned General Motors CEO Mary Barra for the second straight day Wednesday, looking into the timeline and decision making that lead the automaker to recall 2.6 million vehicles in February for issues the company first became aware of in 2001.

A faulty ignition switch is believed to have lead to the deaths of 13 drivers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a consumer alert in regard to the recalls and describes it on its website as a “serious safety issue.”

Six different vehicles, between model years 2003 and 2011, were included in the recall due to a faulty ignition switch that, according to TIME, could be “jostled out of the ‘run’ position” due to heavy key rings. This could cause the engine, steering and power brakes to shut off, as well as disable the airbags.

The recalled GM vehicle models include:

  • All 2005-2010 Chevrolet Cobalt
  • 2005-2007 Pontiac G5
  • 2003-2007 Saturn Ion
  • 2006-2011 Chevrolet HHR
  • 2006-2010 Pontiac Solstice
  • 2007-2010 Saturn Sky

The NHTSA said all owners of these vehicles should seek repairs as soon as consumers receive final notification from GM. GM said owners should “use only the ignition key with nothing else on the key ring,” and can also contact GM for courtesy transportation.

According to a Reuters report, GM engineers decided against a recall in 2005. In a series of emails obtained by Reuters, the engineers cited cost—at roughly 90 cents per vehicle and $400,000 in tooling—for declining to recall the vehicles.

The Senate grilled Barra on Wednesday for the company’s lack of action. Barra, who took over as CEO in January, formally apologized to the victims and said that GM no longer has a “cost culture,” having focused its efforts on customer experience since its 2009 bankruptcy.

GM has until Thursday to answer 107 questions posed by the NHTSA, detailing the timeline of events and naming both GM personnel involved in the decision making and the victims. 

Delphi, the maker of the ignition switch, is also under fire and could face litigation.

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