Members of the U.S. Senate subcommittee questioned the CEO of General Motors, Mary Barra, at a time when the automobile maker is being investigated due to the slow withdrawal of 2.6 million small cars due to a faulty ignition switch. Barra was also questioned on the company's decision not to compensate all victims of the failure of the ignition system, which has been connected to at least 13 deaths.
According to a July 17 Fox Business report, earlier this year GM recalled a total of 2.6 million vehicles worldwide to fix the faulty switches that can cause vehicles to stall and lose power to air bags. The company said employees were aware of the issue at least a decade earlier.
Recently, U.S. Senate Commerce Comitee's panel of investigators summoned Rodney O'Neal, the chief executive officer of Delphi, on Capitol Hill's hot seat to testify alongside Barra. Auto Evolution reported that even though his company produced the sub-standard switches knowingly, O'Neal blames GM for the deaths.
Although the company, which has had strong sales and a rising stock price, had been in deliberations about the flaw since as far back as 2005, no formal recall actions were taken until this year. That delay has led to investigations by the Transportation Department, both chambers of Congress and federal prosecutors.
Senators demanded answers as to why General Motors did not fire its top lawyer after it was revealed this year that the company's litigation department knew of the deadly ignition flaw but failed to escalate the safety issue.
"I do not understand how the General Counsel for a litigation department that had this massive failure of responsibility, how he would be allowed to continue in that important leadership role in this company," said Senator Claire McCaskill, chairwoman of the Senate Commerce subcommittee.
Michael P. Millikin, who is the Executive Vice President & General Counsel at GM, was also grilled on the performance of the GM legal department. Millikin responded repeatedly that he did not know about the safety risks posed by the ignition switch until early Feb. of this year, shortly before the company issued its first public recall for the issue.
Millikin admitted that GM lawyers who worked on an April 2013 case involving a fatal crash had enough information to alert GM engineers, but they did not take action.
"That was tragic. If they had brought it to my attention at that time, I certainly would have made sure that they had done something," he said.