Congress turns GM probe focus to engineers, considers legislation

Wed Apr 9, 2014 7:46pm EDT
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By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers investigating General Motors' slow recall of 2.6 million cars are zeroing in on engineers and others who may have been aware of problems with ignition switches linked to at least 13 deaths.

One month after congressional committees launched formal probes into why it took GM more than a decade to respond to ignition switch safety defects with the recall, lawmakers still do not know exactly how company engineers initially reacted to the problem or whether senior executives were made aware of it.

House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee investigators last month spoke with GM lawyers about company documents.

That panel and the Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee now want to hear from people with direct knowledge of the switch defect, which can unexpectedly shut off engines, disabling airbags and making steering and braking more difficult.

GM Chief Executive Mary Barra had few detailed answers for lawmakers at hearings last week.

"If you really want to get to the bottom of it you really have to talk to people who were actually there when all this was going on," said Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the senior Republican on the Senate committee.

Some members of Congress and their aides expressed interest in calling GM engineers, including ignition switch designer Ray DeGiorgio, to testify at hearings that will likely come this spring or summer.

Congressional investigators have documents from GM that help explain some decisions. One email chain involved engineer John Hendler and Lori Queen, an executive who had responsibility for small car development, discussing costs of redesigning the switch, for instance. DeGiorgio, Hendler and Queen did not responded to Reuters requests for comment.   Continued...

A man walks past a row of General Motors vehicles at a Chevrolet dealership on Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Michigan April 1, 2014. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook