Transcript: Sen. Bill Nelson’s Q&A with GM CEO Mary Barra on the ignition switch recall

Partial transcript of Sen. Bill Nelson’s (D-Florida) Q&A with General Motors CEO Mary Barra on “Examining the GM Recall and NHTSA’s Defect Investigation Process”. The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance’s hearing was held on April 2, 2014:

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida):
…Ms. Barra, I have been a General Motors customer virtually all my life and have been very satisfied. I’m concerned by virtue of what we’ve learned is there a corporate culture and since you’re the new sheriff in town, you’re going to have to get into that culture.

As Sen. Boxer had mentioned, back in 1973, that accident – the fuel fires and so an engineer for GM wrote the value analysis of auto fuel-fed fire related fatalities and Sen. Boxer already talked about that. Madam Chairman, I would ask that that be entered into the record. That engineer’s report. [McCaskill assented]

Now, given this potential culture problem in GM, since I’m a GM customer, if I were to have a recalled Chevrolet Cobalt, would you recommend that I drive home in it tonight?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
If you take all the keys off the ring except the ignition key or just use the ignition key, our engineering team has done extensive analysis to say that’s safe to drive.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida):
What if I were going on a long trip?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
Again, if you don’t have anything else on your key ring – and I recommend just the ignition key – you are safe to drive the vehicle. The analysis has been done over weeks.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida):
I suspect that Cobalt drivers would not take comfort in that advice knowing what has come up, and you all may want to revise that advice.

You mentioned here that GM has hired Ken Feinberg. You know, he’s accustomed to large claims. He handled the BP oil spill in the Gulf. You all have confirmed 13 deaths. Does this suggest with Feinberg coming on board that the number of deaths and injuries is going to be potentially much higher?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
We are starting our work with Mr. Feinberg on Friday. We think he’s an expert in this area and we want to do what’s right. We thought he was the person with the most expertise to go forward.

And I would also – to the previous question – if a person is not comfortable driving their Cobalt or one of these models, we are providing motors free of charge.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida):
With Feinberg going on board, does that suggest that GM is going to compensate owners who feel the need that they have to park their car other than the loaner that you’re speaking about?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
Again, working with Mr. Feinberg, there’s many aspects that we need to work through with him, and that is why he on his timeline is saying it will be about 60 days.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida):
The Center of Auto Safety has suggested that they think this defect may have caused over 300 deaths. That’s a big difference from the 13 that you’ve acknowledged. Why do you think those numbers are so far apart?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
My understanding is there’s data sources from the FARS [Fatality Analysis Reporting System] database where it captures a proportion of incidents that occurred in those vehicles in a broader population. In some cases, the way airbags are designed, they’re not intended to go off depending on the crash.

And if you’d like me to – we have a team that’s very knowledgeable. They’ve spent virtually their entire career working on airbags and understanding that, we can share that.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida):
Tomorrow, you’re going to have to formally respond to NHTSA about what the company did and did not know. Companies are legally required to report safety defects within 5 business days of discovering them. And so, this information is going to be critical to determine whether GM broke the law.

While we’re waiting on this determination, can you tell us whether you think that GM informed the government and the consumers pursuant to the law in order to prevent those accidents?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
I want to know that answer just as much as you do, and that’s I’ve got Mr. Valukas who’s doing this report and we are working on all the information that NHTSA has requested to provide that in a timely fashion.

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