How much General Motors (GM) CEO Mary Barra knew about the company’ defective ignition switches before she took the top seat on January 15 has been the source of much speculation, and now Congressional investigators are trying to determine whether she and other top executives may have had more involvement in the problem than they have acknowledged.
According to Reuters, emails, internal reports, and other GM documents obtained by Congress show that two former Barra lieutenants, Jim Frederico and Terry Woychowski, worked with the GM engineer who led an internal probe of the ignition switch problem from August 2011 to December 2013. So far, however, the records obtained don’t show that Mr. Frederico and Mr. Woychowski informed Ms. Barra about the probe.
GM’s official position on the issue is that no top executives, including Ms. Barra and then-CEO Dan Akerson, knew about the ignition switch defect until January 31, 2014.
Court records from a wrongful-death lawsuit blaming GM’s ignition switch defect for a March 2010 crash show various GM engineers knew about the ignition switch problem as early as 2001, yet the company failed to notify government regulators and the public and never issued a recall until February of this year.
The defect potentially allows the key to turn the ignition to the “accessory” or “off” position, cutting power to the airbags, power steering, and brakes.
Another internal investigation is ongoing and seeks to “understand the entire chronology of events and who knew what when, and what decisions were made or should have been made,” lead investigator and attorney Anton Valukas told Reuters.
Congressional investigators are also trying to understand GM’s complex organization and chain of command to see how the company’s top executives may have been kept in the dark with such a serious problem looming over the company for so many years.
GM claims that Ms. Barra and other senior executives were shut out of recall investigations so that engineers could make appropriate decisions without pressure from the top, Reuters reported. However, the congressional probe has turned up at least one exception to that claim in the 350,000 documents turned over by the automaker, showing that executives were briefed on another safety issue.