The head of General Motors appeared before Congress on Tuesday to answer for the auto giant’s safety defect linked to at least 13 and possibly hundreds of deaths. GM has recalled millions of cars after acknowledging faulty ignition switches shut down engines and disabled air bags. Speaking before a House panel, Mary Barra apologized to the victims’ families.
Mary Barra: "More than a decade ago, GM embarked on a small car program. Sitting here today, I cannot tell you why it took so long for a safety defect to be announced for this program, but I can tell you we will find out. Today’s GM will do the right thing. That begins with my sincere apologies to everyone who has been affected by this recall, especially the families and friends who lost their lives or were injured. I am deeply sorry."
It has recently emerged GM misled the victims’ families, despite knowing of the vehicles’ flaws. In her testimony, Barra said for the first time GM is ready to pay compensation and has hired an attorney to handle claims. The lawyer, Kenneth Feinberg, previously oversaw the compensation funds for 9/11 victims and for Gulf residents impacted by the BP oil spill. But despite admitting fault, Barra had almost no new information to explain how GM repeatedly failed to fix its cars despite knowing of the defective ignitions. Her testimony continues before the Senate today. Outside of the hearing, family members who lost loved ones to crashes in defective GM cars spoke out against the company’s actions.
Laura Christian: "We are the people left behind when a loved one got into what was supposed to be a safe car, a GM car, a car that GM knew for years was dangerous and defective. Our daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, wives and husbands are gone because they were a cost of doing business GM’s style."
Ken Rimer: "Four years prior to producing the Cobalt, GM engineers were aware of a problem with that ignition switch design, which could cause it to turn into the accessory position with just the weight of a keychain or a road bump. Rather than fixing the problem, they chose to keep producing the Cobalt with the ill-fated ignition switch and selling it to an unsuspecting public. Would fixing the problem when it was discovered save these two girls’ lives and the lives of many others? Yes. Should GM be able to hide behind their bankruptcy and not accept the responsibility and liability of these young lives? No."
The scandal has also brought scrutiny on federal regulators, who took no action despite knowing of problems as early as 2007. Testifying on Tuesday, David Friedman, the nation’s auto safety official, told lawmakers he has ordered an internal review.