General Motors CEO Mary Barra managed to avoid the wrath of House representatives during her testimony today by providing enough information about her plans to change the company’s culture to avoid a repeat of the ignition switch recall.
“I will not rest until this problem is solved,” she said. “As I told our employees, I am not afraid of the truth.”
Her appearance today was her second before the subcommittee, whose questions and comments generally focused on three issues: GM’s corporate culture, the establishment of a fund to compensate victims and when the vehicles will all be repaired.
Barra told the committee that there were already changes being made to alter the company’s culture, including the Speak Up For Safety effort to get employees to raise safety issues with supervisors and even to Barra herself if they feel their concerns aren’t being taken seriously.
She also noted the company has undertaken an “unprecedented” safety review, which has brought about the 40 recalls impacting nearly 18 million vehicles since January.
She also reiterated that maker is relying on Kenneth Feinberg, an attorney who has managed compensation funds for 9/11 victims and others, to administer the company’s fund.
“We want to capture every single person who suffered an injury or lost a loved one,” she told the committee. She noted that Feinberg is close to completing the process and that claims should begin being process on Aug. 1.
In a testy exchange with Pete Olson, R-Texas, she said there would be no cap on the amount of the fund.
Barra also reported that the company will have a third production line producing the repair kits for the 2.6 million vehicles up and running by next week and expects to have all the kits built and shipped by Oct. 4: the deadline set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
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“We are on track,” Barra said. “I’ve spoken to the CEOs of these companies. We monitor it on a daily basis.”
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She added that more than 400,000 repair kits have already been sent with more than 177,000 repairs completed. While some on the committee seemed unimpressed, Barra noted that the company faces a unique challenge: convincing car owners to come in and get the repair done.
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In addition to the usual method of mailing the recall notice, the maker is using social media, videos, call center employees as well as working with dealers to get the word out about getting the fix completed.
While it was an easier road this time for Barra, the hearing also cast Delphi Corp., the supplier of the ignitions, in a less-than-favorable light. Anton Valukas, the former U.S. Attorney that headed up the investigation into GM, noted that Delphi wasn’t very cooperative.
“We have not been given access to the Delphi witnesses and limited access to the documents,” he said.
It also provided some insight to a similar problem on other GM vehicles. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) told a story of an email he received in 2005 from a GM employee driving a 2006 Chevy Impala in 2005 who experienced similar problem to those subject to the recall of 2.6 million vehicles. At the time, she told Upton that the ignition needed to be improved and she thought a “big recall” would be coming. That recall occurred last week when the automaker recalled an addition 3.1 million vehicles, including the 2006 Impala, for the problem.
Upton asked Barra what she would do with such an email now, she said it would spur “immediate action” and the recall was clear evidence of that.