Did General Motors and industry regulators fail to detect safety problems that have been linked to 13 deaths? That's the question members of Congress will want answered as they begin an investigation.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee is looking into whether GM(GM) and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration responded appropriately to customer complaints, and will hold a hearing in coming weeks, according to a statement.
"Did the company or regulators miss something that could have flagged these problems sooner?" said committee chairman Rep. Fred Upton. "If the answer is yes, we must learn how and why this happened.... Americans deserve to have the peace of mind that they are safe behind the wheel."
GM(GM) first recalled Chevrolet Cobalts and Pontiac G5 cars, and then expanded that recall to Saturn Ions, Chevrolet HHRs, Pontiac Solstices and Saturn Sky models because of an ignition switch problem that can cause the cars to be shut off accidentally while driving. The problems caused 31 frontal crashes and at least 13 deaths over several years.
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Documents submitted to federal safety regulators reveal that some GM engineers knew of the problem with the switch 10 years ago, but did not immediately treat it as a serious safety concern. Even after the seriousness of the problem was recognized, internal communication problems caused delays in dealing with it.
Mary Barra, who became CEO of the automaker in January, recently said that the problems were first brought to the attention of her team "a few weeks ago." She said she led a committee that acted immediately when informed about the problem.