WASHINGTON — Congress is demanding answers from the new CEO of General Motors and the head of the nation's auto safety watchdog about why it took at least a decade to recall cars with a defective part that is now linked to 13 deaths.
Diana DeGette, D-Colorado, held up an ignition switch for one of the cars and said a small spring inside of it failed to provide enough force, causing the car engines to turn off when they went over a bump. DeGette showed how easy it was for a light set of keys to move the ignition out of the "run" position. That can cause the engine to stall, and the driver loses power steering and power brakes.
DeGette said documents provided by GM show that what GM termed an "unacceptable cost increase" was only 57 cents. She asked that document be put into record.
"We know that GM made a series of terrible decisions, and we know that this tragedy has exposed significant gaps in federal law that allowed them to do so," DeGette said.
GM CEO Mary Barra sat silently at a table in front of the committee. David Friedman, the current head of the the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, was also testifying before the committee.
GM has recalled 2.6 million cars for the faulty switch. The company says new switches should be available starting April 7. Concerned owners can ask dealers for a loaner car while waiting for the replacement part.
Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Michigan, said GM and government regulators got complaints about the ignition switches 10 years ago, and GM submitted reports to the agency. Upton questioned why it took so long to recall the cars.
Some current GM car owners and relatives of those who died in crashes are also in Washington seeking answers to that question. The group is attending the hearing and earlier held a press conference where they demanded action against GM and stiffer legislation to prevent serious auto vehicle problems.
Durbin reported from Detroit. Associated Press writer Marcy Gordon in Washington contributed to this report.