General Motors CEO Mary Barra suffered a bruising second day of congressional testimony related to the car firm’s fatal ignition issues on Wednesday, berated by senators who said her company should face a criminal investigation.
Barra pledged to members of a Senate commerce committee that GM would release a wide variety of information from its investigation into a flaw linked to 13 deaths and the recall of 2.5m cars. But the senators were unappeased.
Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, who chaired the hearing, said GM had a “culture of cover-up” and asked why no one at the company had been fired. She singled out GM engineer Ray DeGiorgio, who she said had “lied under oath, repeatedly.”
During a lawsuit against the company, DeGiorgio testified that he knew nothing about a change in the switch on the faulty ignitions. A House committee looking into the recalls has found memos in which he signed off on the change. “I can’t understand for the life of me why he still has a job,” McCaskill said.
New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, denounced GM for signing off on allowing a faulty ignition lock part to be changed without a change made to the part number – a move federal investigators believe was made to cover up the previous defect. “I don’t see this as anything but criminal,” said Ayotte, a former prosecutor.
According to documents given to Congress, GM knew for a decade that there were issues with its ignition switches in smaller, cheaper cars – issues that could lead to the cars turning off as they were being driven. Those defects have also been linked to problems with air bags. On Tuesday, a House subcommittee heard that it would have cost GM $0.57 a car to fix the switches.
The company is now under investigation by both houses of Congress, a federal prosecutor and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the agency that regulates US auto safety.
Barra repeatedly claimed “appropriate action” would be taken, but said that, as GM’s investigations were in their early stages, she was unable to address specific issues.
Her tactic frustrated senators. Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, read out Barra’s 33-year resumé at GM and asked why she had never heard of the switch problem in any of her previous roles. Barra had no substantive answer.
"You don't know anything about anything," Boxer said. "If this is the new GM leadership, it's pretty lacking."
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