The U.S. House committee will hold a panel on April 1 to investigate how General Motors managed the recent ignition switch recall, and CEO Mary Barra will testify as to how and why the issue was able to slip through the cracks. Bloomberg reports that Barra, alongside National Highway Traffic Safety Administration acting administrator David Friedman, will have to explain why the recall is only happening now after evidence of a problem began to pile up as early as 2001.
Barra claims to have first become aware of the ignition switch defect in December, before she rose to CEO in January. Following the recall instituted last month, she has since apologized for the 12 deaths relating to the faulty switches, which can shift into the “Off” position and cut engine power, preventing airbag deployment in the event of a crash.
Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee chairman Fred Upton (R-Michigan) will lead the investigation. Upton will seek to determine to what degree General Motors and NHTSA could have acted on the problems sooner. “We want to know if this tragedy could have been prevented and what can be done to ensure the loss of life due to safety failures like this don’t happen again,” Upton said in a statement.
GM spokesman Greg Martin told Bloomberg that Barra “welcomes the opportunity to participate in the hearing as part of GM’s effort to cooperate with Congress and other authorities.”
Barra and “new GM” cannot be held legally liable for any accidents or injuries that took place before July 10, 2009, when the company was reformed after bankruptcy. Yet, even if it turns out that all of the missteps leading to the recall of 1.6 million vehicles were the definitive result of inaction from “old GM,”
Barra’s personal handling of the current situation is a good sign moving forward. This first hearing is sure to be one of many on the horizon, as Barra and GM will be subject to probes from numerous other investigative bodies including the U.S. Justice department. It isn’t clear as of now whether GM will compensate the affected families of the injured and killed, but the going could get tough for GM in light of Toyota’s recent $1.2-billion settlement over its “unintended acceleration” recalls.