The Congressional committee investigating the long-delayed the recall of millions of vehicles equipped with a faulty ignition switch, released a flurry of internal General Motors documents Friday showing what it described as "failures within the system" that allowed critical safety issues to go unaddressed.
Exactly why the ignition switch problem went unresolved for as much as a decade has spurred a series of investigations by the Department of Justice, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and both houses of Congress. During two Capitol Hill hearings last week, GM CEO Mary Barra was repeatedly criticized for failing to offer clear answers about the ignition switch problem.
One of the documents released Friday showed that while in her previous job as GM's global product development chief, Barra was kept clearly in the loop about a separate recall issue involving steering problems on the Saturn Ion and other GM products.
Some initial news coverage of the newly released documents suggested that this might be a direct link between the GM CEO and the ignition switch problem. But a senior staff member of the House Energy Committee stressed that was not the case, telling TheDetroitBureau.com, such a connection was "premature."
"I would say it provides some evidence as to what sort of matters reach the (executive) level" at GM, explained the Energy Committee's Charlotte Baker. But she stressed the e-mail had no direct connection to the ignition switch problem.
Indeed, GM commented Friday afternoon on Twitter that the 2011 email Barra received was unrelated to the ignition switch recalls.
If Barra did, indeed, know about the problems with the ignition switches-now linked to 13 deaths and 31 crashes-during her time as product development chief, it could potentially lead to perjury charges in light of her testimony to Congress. But despite the harsh criticism the executive faced during two contentious days of hearings, there is no evidence linking Barra to the ignition switch problem.
At this point, evidence appears to point to two senior engineers who declined to take action, one noting that a recall was not a cost-justifiable solution. On Thursday, GM put those two staff members on paid leave. The maker did not identify them but other sources indicate they are Gary Altman, who previously served as program engineering manager for the Chevrolet Cobalt, and Ray DeGiorgio, a project engineer for both the Cobalt and Saturn Ion.
GM's stock traded lower on Friday.