The New York Times / Doug Mills

House Releases Documents Showing Slow GM Response On Recall

The documents detail the extent of General Motors's knowledge of defective ignition switches in several car models.

By Jake Godin | April 12, 2014

New documents concerning General Motors's knowledge of faulty ignition switches in their cars have been released and things aren't looking so hot for the car manufacturer.

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce released 250,000 pages of documents that detail the extent to which GM knew about the faulty switches, a defect that has been linked to 13 deaths and sparked GM's recall on several vehicles January 31. 

The problem with the ignition switches? Too many keys could cause your car to shut off.

With too much weight on a keyring, faulty ignition switches could potentially slip out of the "on" position, cutting power to vehicles and disabling life-saving measures such as airbags. (Via Consumer Reports)

Forbes writes that the released documents provide a "smoking gun memo" and the decision by a GM engineer not to change the part number on the ignition switch "caused years of delay in tracing a defect on nearly 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalt, Saturn Ion and other Saturn and Pontiac models."

The release of these documents comes less than two weeks after GM CEO Mary Barra gave her testimony to the committee on why it took so long to issue the recall. 

Barra testified that she hadn't known of the issue until January and vowed to find out why it took so long to be announced: 

"As soon as I learned about the problem, we acted without hesitation. We told the world we had a problem that needed to be fixed.​" (Via CNN)

One of the documents, an email, showed that Barra had known of another security issue: faulty steering columns in Saturn Ions. 

The Washington Post reports GM reacted quickly to attempts to tie prior knowledge of the faulty switches to this email:

"The email to Mary Barra dated October 3, 2011 references a Saturn Ion steering issue — an issue completely separate from the ignition-related recalls. The email in no way contradicts Ms. Barra’s previous statements or testimony."

But The New York Times notes that the committee shot back, saying:

"These documents continue to raise very serious questions — which G.M. and C.E.O. Mary Barra must address immediately — about whether she knew more, and earlier, about disabling defects in G.M. cars than she has acknowledged."

All of this news has also hurt GM's stock. USA Today reports that share prices for the company have fallen to $32, the first time since June of last year that they've closed below the IPO price of $33.

As for the recalled vehicles that are still on the street, GM has asked NASA to verify if drivers are safe using only the key while driving in a recalled car.

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