GM hearings ‘gobbledygook’

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If General Motors hopes to convince the public that there is a “new GM” — a company that would not leave a defective part in cars for a decade while more than a dozen people died — then CEO Mary Barra will have to do better than she did during two days of congressional grilling.

Barra promised transparency, but she spouted what one congressman bluntly called “gobbledygook.” Asked whether GM would publicly share results of its internal and supposedly “independent” investigation, Barra punted: “We will share what’s appropriate.”

The hearings Tuesday and Wednesday raised deeper questions about GM’s commitment to safety. Among the most troubling revelations:

Delphi, the maker of the faulty ignition switches GM used in Chevy Cobalts and Saturn Ions, told congressional staff that GM knew as early as 2002 that the switch failed to meet GM’s own specifications. GM used it anyway. Barra’s answer to why a company would buy parts that weren’t up to its own specs suggested that this wasn’t unusual — raising the question of whether substandard parts are in other GM vehicles.

The extra cost of the part to fix the ignition switch was 57 cents, yet GM decided in 2005 that the lead time was too long, that the “tooling” and piece price were too high and that the fix might not work, lawmakers said Tuesday, citing GM documents. The first fatal crash in which the switch accidentally turned to accessory, cutting power to the airbags, came shortly after. GM didn’t recall the cars until this year.

A GM engineer, testifying last year in a lawsuit over a fatal 2010 crash, said he knew nothing about a change in the ignition switch on later models. In fact, he had signed off on the change in 2006. Citing that testimony Wednesday, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., accused GM of having “a culture of cover-up.”

GM is under investigation by Congress, a federal safety agency and a federal prosecutor. It has recalled 2.6 million cars. Its “new GM” brand identity rides on defining what went wrong and credibly separating the company from its past. But Barra’s choice to conduct its internal inquiry was Anton Valukas, who leads a Chicago law firm that handles enormous amounts of GM work. Valukas is a former prosecutor with a stellar reputation, but the conflict is glaring and amplified by Barra’s reluctance to share all the results.

Like other corporations that have faced extreme reputational hazard, GM’s best bet is to fully air its mistakes and fix them, no doubt at great cost. Only then can Barra turn the Cobalt lemon into “new GM” lemonade.

This is a USA Today editorial opinion piece. It in no way reflects the views of the TPE family of businesses.

Courtesy of USA Today

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