E-mail shows GM chief Mary Barra knew of deadly steering problem in 2011


WASHINGTON, D.C.: General Motors chief executive Mary Barra was told in 2011 of steering problems on cars involved in this year’s recall and linked to 13 deaths, a document released last week showed.

US lawmakers published an internal e-mail, dated October 3, 2011, from a GM engineer to Barra, who at the time was head of product development at the largest US carmaker.

The e-mail includes a New York Times article of the same date about the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) investigation of steering problems with the Saturn Ion. The newspaper said the NHTSA was close to concluding that the Ion should have been included in GM’s 2010 recall of certain Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiacs G5 vehicles for a steering problem.

“During the initial Cobalt case, the Ion data did not justify being included. This situation has been evolving. We will meet and understand the latest data. FYI,” engineer Terry Woychowski wrote in the e-mail.

The document did not show whether Barra, who became GM’s chief executive officer in January, had responded.

More than two years later, on March 31, GM recalled 1.5 million cars worldwide for a steering problem, including the 2004 to 2007 Ion and the 2010 Cobalt. The same Cobalt and Ion cars are among the 2.6 million cars GM recalled in February and March for an ignition switch problem that can prevent airbags from deploying. The defect is linked to the deaths of 13 people.

GM was aware of the ignition switch problem more than a decade before the recall.

The e-mail was among a trove of documents released by the US House of Representatives’s Energy and Commerce Committee. The House and the Senate are investigating why GM took so long to recall the cars with defective ignition switches. The note “references a Saturn Ion steering issue—an issue completely separate from the ignition-related recalls,” GM spokesman Alan Adler said in a statement responding to the records release.

“The e-mail in no way contradicts Ms Barra’s previous statements or testimony before the House or Senate subcommittees. The e-mail was among the thousands of documents GM willingly provided” to the House committee upon its request, he said.

In her testimony before Congress on April 1 and 2, Barra said that she was not aware of the ignition switch problem until December. Lawmakers did not ask her if she knew about other vehicle defects.



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