Wall Street JournalGM Recalls 1.5 Million More Vehicles
News About Power Steering Concerns Comes as CEO, Regulator Prepare to Face Congress
By Siobhan Hughes and Jeff Bennett
Updated March 31, 2014 7:29 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON—Capitol Hill is gearing up for a showdown Tuesday that will pit General Motors Co. against federal regulators about who is to blame for car defects now linked to 13 crash deaths.
Separately, GM on Monday recalled another 1.5 million vehicles world-wide to fix steering system problems and more than doubled to $750 million its estimate of the hit to first-quarter results from recalls that now cover 6.3 million cars and trucks.
That includes the 2.6 million vehicles linked to the ignition defect that will be at the center of congressional hearings Tuesday and Wednesday.
Tuesday's hearing, before a House subcommittee, will star GM Chief Executive Mary Barra as well as David Friedman, the acting head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The hearing promises a round of finger-pointing over where the blame lies for a nearly decadelong delay between the recalls that began this February and when GM engineers knew there were problems with ignition switches designed for the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt.
Engineers discovered it was easy to jostle the keys out of the "on" position while the car was running, cutting power to the air bags, power brakes and power steering.
GM has since linked 13 deaths to accidents in which air bags didn't deploy in the recalled vehicles.
According to disclosures by GM and House investigators, executives at the auto maker decided not to delay the 2004 release of the Cobalt, which was an important piece of GM's strategy for bolstering North American earnings.
That strategy ultimately failed. GM filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009 and was taken over by the U.S. government, which owned a stake in the company until last December.
Some lawmakers have signaled that they have questions about whether government ownership played any role in the handling of the ignition-switch matter.
NHTSA took blows in a memo released Sunday by investigators for the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Republican majority, which pointed to decisions by the agency in 2007 and 2010 not to pursue complaints about air bags that failed to deploy in crashes involving now-recalled GM cars.
"GM had critical information that would have helped identify this defect," Mr. Friedman is expected to testify Tuesday, according to his prepared testimony.
Mr. Friedman plans to testify that it wasn't until this February that GM submitted information that "for the first time acknowledged a link between the ignition switch" and "the air-bag nondeployment."
"Had the information newly provided to NHTSA by GM been available before now, it would have better informed the agency's prior reviews of air-bag nondeployment in GM vehicles and likely would have changed NHTSA's approach to this issue," according to his prepared testimony.
Ms. Barra isn't planning to assign fault, and won't offer a new explanation for the company's inaction, according to her prepared testimony.
"Sitting here today, I cannot tell you why it took years for a safety defect to be announced in that program, but I can tell you that we will find out," Ms. Barra plans to testify.
Monday's recall also is part of GM's response to revelations about the delayed ignition recall. In a series of steps since early March, Ms. Barra has tried to demonstrate that she is determined to change the company's method of addressing safety defects.
Her newly named vice president for safety, Jeff Boyer, linked the steering recall to that effort. "With these safety recalls and lifetime warranties, we are going after every car that might have this problem, and we are going to make it right," he said Monday as GM announced its latest recall.
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