By TOM KRISHER
AP Auto Writer
DETROIT (AP) – General Motors CEO Mary Barra has told Washington lawmakers that GM could simultaneously release an internal investigation into a deadly ignition switch problem and its plan to compensate victims.
Barra met with lawmakers Wednesday on Capitol Hill and told them the investigation and compensation plan could be done in a few weeks, said the aide, who asked not to be identified because the meetings were private.
She also told lawmakers GM can’t keep up with demand for replacement ignition parts for its recall of 2.6 million older small cars. GM expects to catch up in July and start a campaign to persuade people to take cars to dealers for repairs, the CEO told legislators, according to the aide.
The ignition switches in older small cars such as the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion can slip unexpectedly out of the “run” position, shutting off the engine and knocking out power steering and brakes. The switches also can disable the air bags. Many victims have lost control of their cars and crashed. GM links the switch problem to 13 deaths, but trial lawyers suing the company say it’s in excess of 53.
Congress and Justice Department are investigating GM’s slow response to the safety problem. The company has agreed to pay a $35 million fine assessed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
GM confirmed that Barra met with legislators and said in a statement that since becoming CEO in January, she has visited “to discuss issues that are important to them.”
The automaker has hired former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas to investigate why it took so long for the company to recall the small cars even though GM knew about the problem for at least a decade. GM has promised an “unvarnished” report, and Barra has told Congress she will take decisive action on its findings. Included in the scope of Valukas’ probe is the role of GM’s legal team in the delays.
The company also has hired compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg to negotiate settlements with crash victims. Lawyers say they have at least 400 possible cases against GM, and the settlements could cost the company billions.
Barra met with Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri; Chuck Schumer, D-New York; and Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, as well as Reps. Dianna DeGette, D-Colorado and John Dingell, D-Michigan. Some of the legislators are the same ones who grilled Barra at subcommittee hearings last month.
Barra has agreed to return to committee hearings after Valukas’ investigation is finished.
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