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

Partial transcript of Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-Wisconsin) 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. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin):
…Like Sen. Klobuchar, I met with the stepfather and mother of Natasha Weigel and the accident occurred in Wisconsin so it hits pretty close to home. Your background is an engineer, correct?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
Correct.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin):
So you’ve been with GM for 33 years. In that capacity, I would imagine General Motors has been a leader in terms of total quality management in their manufacturing process?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
We’ve improved our quality dramatically over the last several years.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin):
Okay. I’ve got a manufacturing background myself. I ran a plant for 31 years. In your engineering capacity, I would imagine you’ve dealt with the quality management system in a pretty robust fashion, correct?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
Correct in the manufacturing arenas.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin):
Okay. I want to drill down a little bit in terms of where Chairman McCaskill and Sen. Ayotte went on the change of that part number. I’ve gone through a lot of quality audits. And of course the reason you have different numbers for different parts is for traceability, correct?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
Correct. A number of reasons but that being the key one.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin):
A real key one. So if there’s a problem, if there’s a defect in the manufacturing process you can trace back exactly where that happened. So you called that not good engineering principle. That’s really just a total violation of a total quality management system, correct?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
Correct.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin):
And again, total quality management has been part of GM for how many decades?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
For, I would say, at least my career and it’s been improving along the way.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin):
And the engineering departments in particular are totally focused on those TQM principles, correct?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
Correct.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin):
When you change a part, there’s going to be an awful lot of engineering that goes into changing that part, correct? They’re going to be subparts that go in a part –

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
It depends on the change of the part.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin):
Well, let’s say ignition switch. There are multiple parts to an ignition switch, correct?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
Correct.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin):
So, when you redesign that, there are going to be different parts combined with that part.

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
And then the part number that General Motors uses as the sub-assembly comes to us would have a unique individual part number.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin):
So it’d be very difficult within a total quality management system to have multiple changes in part numbers combined in an assembled part and then not have that part number changed in a completely different part, correct?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
I agree.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin):
Almost impossible.

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
It’s wrong.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin):
Which means it wasn’t just a mistake. Somebody had to proactively make sure that that part number did not change, correct?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
That’s why we’re investigating exactly why that happened.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin):
But again, within a total quality management system with everything that goes into changing a part – an assembled part so there are going to be different part numbers combining that part – there is almost no conceivable way within the total quality management system, with computers as they are today, with the types of controls you put into total quality management system that within that system a new assembled part would not have a different part number.

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
I agree with you, and that’s why I find it so disturbing.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin):
So basically the conclusion would be is that process, that procedure, that computer system was purposefully over-written.

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
That is why we’re doing the investigation.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin):
Okay, well, again that’s the assumption we have to make, right?

Now, also within that traceability part of total quality management system, we should be able to quickly identify who or what departments were involved in that, correct?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
And we are doing that.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin):
Now, again, I’m no attorney. I can’t really speak to criminality. But it’s going to be pretty important to find out who is responsible for over-writing that quality system to change that part.

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
I want to understand why those actions were taken.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin):
And the only reason anybody would make sure in a total quality management system that a part number didn’t change would be to hide the fact that that part changed for some reason, correct?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
I would like the complete investigation to be completed before I start making assumptions.

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