Upton Presses Barra on Safety As New Recall Announced

June 18, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC – The House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee today continued its investigation of the General Motors ignition switch recall with a hearing featuring testimony from GM CEO Mary Barra and Anton Valukas, who led the company’s internal investigation. Valukas’ report revealed safety failures and practices ingrained deep within GM’s culture. Members of the subcommittee pressed Barra on how the company would respond to Valukas’ findings, and transform a long-standing culture of “incompetence and neglect” into a culture of safety. Just this week, GM announced a new recall covering over 3 million vehicles - including multiple Chevrolet, Cadillac, and Buick models – due to similar problems in the ignition switch.

This latest recall appears to follow the same disturbing pattern as the Cobalt breakdown, which was the focus of the Valukas investigation. In both cases, safety issues with the ignition switch were raised internally but action to fix the problem was not taken until many years later. In his report, Mr. Valukas highlighted that GM engineers failed to identify the ignition issues as a safety problem. During questioning, Upton pressed Barra on her reaction to Valukas’ findings, especially in light of new evidence uncovered by the committee revealing an employee raised concerns over nine years ago in a model that was just recalled.

Upton highlighted a 2005 email from a GM engineer to other GM employees, including Ray DeGiorgio, addressing a safety concern with the ignition switch in the 2006 Chevy Impala after driving the vehicle home from work. In her email, she recalls her experience of the ignition switch falling from the “run” position and stalling upon hitting a bump in the road. Her email states, "I think this is a serious safety problem, especially if this switch is on multiple programs. I’m thinking big recall. I was driving 45 mph when I hit the pothole and the car shut off, and I had a car driving behind me swerved around me. I don’t like to imagine a customer driving with their kids in the back seat, on I-75 and hitting a pothole, in rush hour traffic. I think you should seriously consider changing this part to a switch with a stronger detent."

Upton stated, “To reiterate, nearly nine years ago, a GM employee suggested the stalling of a 06’ Impala was a serious safety problem and speculated that a ‘big recall’ was coming. So when was the recall for the 06’ Impala announced? ... Two days ago, Monday.”

Watch Upton’s questioning here

“The recall announced on Monday makes it painfully clear this is not just a Cobalt problem,” said Upton. “A culture that allowed safety problems to fester for years will be hard to change. But if GM is going to recover and regain the public’s trust, it must learn from this report and break the patterns that led to this unimaginable systemic breakdown.”

Read the email exchange online here.

###