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Congressional Probe Investigates Top GM Exec Involvement in Recall

Tina Robinson2 years ago

Congressional probes seeking answers for why General Motors delayed recalling vehicles with faulty ignition switches for over a decade are taking a closer look at how much involved top level executives had in the matter. A recent report from Reuters highlights some of the difficulty that investigators are having as they sift through thousands of documents.

How much did GM Execs know?

Congressional probes are currently focusing on whether or not GM CEO Mary Barra and other senior-level executives knew more about the defective switches than has been publicly acknowledged. At the heart of the matter is an internal investigation conducted from 2011 to 2013 that eventually led to the massive 2.6 million vehicle recall. Investigators are trying to determine who knew about and was ultimately responsible for the investigation.

Jim Cain, a spokesman for GM, has maintained that Barra and other top executives were not informed of the switch issue until January 31 of this year, at which time a recall was issued. The company has said safety investigations were isolated from senior executives to avoid engineers being pressured. In testimony before Congress, Barra stated that she was aware of an issue with the Chevrolet Cobalt in December 2013, but she did not know the exact specifics.

GM Recall Time: 2011-2013 Internal Investigation

For reasons that remain unclear, an internal investigation was initiated in August 2011 by GM’s legal and engineering departments. At the time, Barra had been recently named senior vice president for global development. One of her responsibilities was to oversee safety investigations and recalls.

Senior executive Terry Woychowski, who reported directly to Barra, was a champion for the 2011 probe. A “champion” is an industry term that indicates a senior executive who marshals internal resources, explains Reuters. Woychowski oversaw the investigation until he retired in June 2012, at which time the investigation was taken over by Jim Federico. Again, Federico reported directly to Barra.

Eventually, the investigation found that airbags in the vehicles were not deploying because the GM keys were being shifted into the “accessory” or “off” position. The findings were reviewed by two internal committees in December 2013 and finally, two months later, a recall was issued.

Possible GM Compensation Fund

As congressional probes continue, GM is also dealing with numerous lawsuits that have been filed on behalf of recall victims and their families. Last week, attorney Ken Feinberg, an advisor to GM, met with plaintiffs’ attorney Thomas J. Henry to discuss a possible GM fund to compensate victims.

Initial indications were good that GM would establish such a fund. However, more recent statements from the automaker and Feinberg has prompted further legal action, including a lawsuit filed on behalf of a child permanently disabled by a crash involving a recalled Chevrolet Cobalt. In 2009, then 11-month-old Trenton Buzard was the sole survivor of a head-on collision in which the airbags of the Cobalt he was a backseat passenger never deployed. Investigators determined the ignition key had been switched into the “accessory” position when the accident occurred. 

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