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GM CEO Pressed On Handling Of Ignition Switch Defect


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

There was only one thing the new head of General Motors could really say about its recall of defective vehicles. The recall was a decade in coming, and the defect has been linked to at least 13 deaths.

Mary Barra faced questions about it yesterday before Congress.


INSKEEP: Apologies were not enough for some lawmakers, who are targeting federal regulators, as well as GM. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: The last time Mary Barra was on Capitol Hill, the tone was completely different. In January, just a few days after taking the reigns of General Motors, she was a guest of the president for his State of the Union address. Her return yesterday was not triumphant.


GLINTON: It was very clear, once Barra - who's a 30-year plus veteran of General Motors - sat down, that she was trying to separate the company she used to work for from the one she now leads.


GLINTON: Another key point that Barra wanted to make for committee members was that the company was looking into why it took General Motors years to tell the public about a problem with ignition switches.

Dozens of times, during more than two hours of testimony, Barra said she'll know more after a private investigation being conducted for GM by a former U.S. attorney.


GLINTON: Members of the committee were not pleased.

Representative Gregg Harper is a Republican from Mississippi.


GLINTON: Several lawmakers pointed to memos detailing GM's knowledge of the ignition problem over a decade, including Republican Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania.


GLINTON: The hearing was not only about GM, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which overseas recalls.

David Friedman, the acting administrator of NHTSA, says GM withheld critical information which might have helped the agency connect the dots.


GLINTON: Meanwhile, families who sat at the back of the hearing room say someone should have acted.

Shannon Wooten spoke to NPR before the hearing.

SHANNON WOOTEN: My son Josh was killed in a 2006 Cobalt in 2009, right after we supposedly had got the ignition fixed.

GLINTON: Wooten says she wants officials at GM to be held accountable if it's found out that they were hiding information. But mostly, she says, she wants the company to listen and change.

WOOTEN: This right here is like being at the funeral again, you know? If they would have listened to one or two of us, we wouldn't have all these people out here today.

GLINTON: At the hearing, Mary Barra announced that GM would hire Kenneth Feinberg, who's known for handling high-profile victim compensation cases - such as 9/11 and the BP oil spill - to help with GM victims, though Barra refused to say when and how they'd be compensated.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: January 11, 2019 at 12:00 AM EST
A Web intro to this story incorrectly referred to the National Transportation Safety Administration. It is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.

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