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

Partial transcript of Sen. Edward Markey’s (D-Massachusetts) 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. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts):
…This a Chevy Cobalt 2006 ignition switch. This is the same design that failed, shutting off vehicle airbags and killing innocent victims. We now know that the difference between this switch and one that would have worked was the difference between life and death.

And you know the other difference? The other thing that we now know – that it would only cost $2 to repair. $2. And that’s how little this ignition switch would have cost. And it was apparently $2 too much for General Motors to act despite a decade of warnings, accident reports and deaths.

And while a number of investigations are ongoing to determine exactly how many times this evidence was covered up by GM or ignored by NHTSA, there’s one clear conclusion that we can make and that it is much more difficult to cover up evidence that is publicly available.

Ms. Barra, if I have a car accident and decide to report the details to NHTSA, NHTSA puts that information into a public consumer complaint database. But if I made the very same complaint to General Motors instead of to NHTSA, GM can deem all the details of my complaint to be confidential business information and it does that every single time.

You told Sen. Coats that you would have all of the information, that you would share anything and everything related to GM’s Cobalt situation.

My question to you is this: Will you commit publicly to disclosing all documents, including accident reports, notices that a fatal accident could have been caused by a safety defect and all details of consumer complaints GM receives about all of its vehicles going forward, Cobalt or any other vehicle?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
I understand there’s different things being looked at to see what we should be reporting to NHTSA and we will actively support looking at what we think will be useful to have – speed the process of understanding the defect or understanding why something happened. We will work cooperatively. I understand there’s legislation underway and we’d be happy to review and provide input.

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts):
All right. So let’s reach the legislation because it’s clear that if you’re not going to commit to doing it voluntarily that we need legislation that mandates it. The families are here. The victims are here. They want to be vindicated themselves. They don’t want other families to ever suffer what they have suffered.

So, Sen. Blumenthal and I have introduced legislation – a early warning reporting system.

Let me ask you this: Our bill would require automakers to submit the documents that first alerts them to fatal accidents involving their vehicles to the searchable early warning reporting system. Would you support that legislation?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
That legislation is being reviewed by our team. We’re providing input. We need to review the entire –

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts):
Number two, it would require the Transportation Department to publish materials it receives about safety incidents that it currently keeps secret. Could you support that for families across America?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
Senator, as this bill is put forward, we’d like to review in its entirety and provide input, and then we will comply with whatever legislation is passed. And we will work proactively with NHTSA to try and make sure the most helpful information is brought forward.

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts):
Number three, it would require the Transportation Department to upgrade its databases to give consumers the tools they need to protect the members of their family? Can you support that?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
The answer again – we – I’d like to look at the legislation in its entirety and provide input and work with NHTSA to make sure the appropriate information that will be most helpful is what’s made available.

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts):
Fourth, it would require the Transportation Department to use the information it has to better identify fatal defects before they claim more innocent lives. Can you support that legislation for every auto company in America?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
Again, I would like to look at the legislation in its entirety, look at what makes the most sense working with NHTSA to make sure the most valuable information is put forward.

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts):
I am very troubled that you are not willing to commit to ending this culture of secrecy at General Motors.

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
I didn’t say that.

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts):
Yes, you have, okay? And I know this because I have tried year after year for more than 10 years to have legislation passed that would require the disclosure of all of this information, and it was the automobile industry that killed my legislation year after year. And this is the moment now for you to say more than that you’re sorry, that you’re going to commit that families get the information to make sure that it never affects any other family in America again.

And you should be in position right now, Ms. Barra, I am telling you this, to say “We will disclose this information. We will make it available.”

You’ve had more than 2 months now to make this decision. You’ve had more than 2 months to think about what went wrong. You’ve had more than 2 months to think about why you worked to kill legislation as a corporation to provide a consumer database so that individual families knew that their families could be harmed. And yet you still do not have an answer. You still do not understand what the American public wants. They need the information to protect their families and it is important for everyone to know that General Motors is still not giving us the yes the American people want to that question.

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