THE fix for a faulty ignition switch linked to 13 traffic deaths would have cost just 57 cents (€0.41), members of the US Congress said yesterday as they demanded answers from General Motors's new CEO on why the automaker took 10 years to recall cars with the defect.
At a hearing on Capitol Hill before a House subcommittee, GM's Mary Barra acknowledged under often testy questioning that the company took too long to act.
She promised changes at GM that would prevent such a lapse from happening again.
"If there's a safety issue, we're going to make the right change and accept that," said Barra, who became CEO in January and almost immediately found herself thrust into one of the biggest product safety crises Detroit has ever seen.
But as relatives of the crash victims looked on intently, she admitted that she didn't know why it took years for the safety defect to be announced.
Barra also deflected many questions about what went wrong, saying an internal investigation is under way.
Since February, GM has recalled 2.6 million cars – mostly Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions – over the faulty switch, which can cause the engine to cut off and the vehicle to lose power steering and power brakes. The automaker said new switches should be available from next Monday.
Barra struggled at times to answer lawmakers' pointed questions, particularly about why GM used the switch when it knew the part didn't meet its own specifications.
GM has said that in 2005, company engineers proposed solutions to the switch problem but the automaker concluded that none represented "an acceptable business case".
"Documents provided by GM show that this unacceptable cost increase was only 57 cents," Rep Diana DeGette said.