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News: Who’s at the wheel, Congress asks General Motors chief in safety row

Mary Barra quizzed over ignition switch fault linked to 13 deaths


May Barra general motors questioned in congress

THE HEAD of America’s biggest car company was battling to salvage its reputation last week in the face of evidence that it might have been aware of an ignition switch fault linked to 13 deaths.

Mary Barra, who was appointed chief executive of General Motors (GM) last December, stood accused of lacking leadership at a US Congress hearing on the company’s behaviour on Wednesday.

It followed a recall of more than 1.5m American cars over a faulty ignition switch, which could be jolted out of its “on” position, turning the engine off and potentially deactivating the airbags. Last Monday the company also recalled 1.3m US cars with power steering that could suddenly fail.

GM, the parent company of Vauxhall, concedes a possible link between the ignition switch fault and 31 crashes in America, resulting in 13 deaths, but disputes the claim of one safety watchdog that switch failure is linked to 303 fatalities.

US Congress investigators were given evidence that the ignition switch was approved in 2002 by GM even though it didn’t meet the company’s specifications. It was redesigned in 2006.

Barra said she did not know of the problem until January 31 this year and acted immediately. The company is carrying out an internal investigation.