In testimony scheduled Wednesday, Mary Barra, the chief executive of General Motors Co., will tell a congressional panel that the automaker failed to handle a deadly ignition switch issue "in a responsible way" and that GM is now engaged in the "most exhaustive, comprehensive safety review" in its history.
In her remarks, Barra plans to frequently cite a 325-page internal probe by former U.S. Atty. Anton Valukas that GM released this month into why it waited years to recall 2.6 million small cars with a faulty ignition switch linked to more than 50 crashes and at least 13 deaths. The switch in those cars could shift suddenly, also turning off critical safety functions such as air bags.
"I was deeply saddened and disturbed as I read the report. For those of us who have dedicated our lives to this company, it is enormously painful to have our shortcomings laid out so vividly," Barra said in remarks prepared for a House Energy and Commerce Committee panel and released Tuesday by GM.
The report found a pervasive atmosphere of incompetence and neglect that led the company to allow the problem to fester for at least 11 years. The inquiry was based on hundreds of interviews and more than 41 million documents.
"There is no way to minimize the seriousness of what Mr. Valukas and his investigators uncovered," Barra plans to tell the House panel.
She will be speaking to the same committee that grilled Barra in April, trying to find answers as to why the automaker waited so long to recall the cars.
During her first meeting with lawmakers, Barra deflected many of their questions, saying she hoped to discover answers from an internal probe launched by GM. Valukas also is scheduled to testify.
GM released his findings this month and subsequently fired 15 people, including the engineer responsible for the switch design and subsequent changes. Many of those fired were executives. Five additional GM employees were disciplined.
"This isn't just another business challenge," Barra will say in her statement. "This is a tragic problem that never should have happened. And it must never happen again."
The automaker faces ongoing investigations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Justice Department and Congress into why it delayed fixing the cars for so long.
Barra will tell lawmakers that she plans to make permanent changes in the culture at GM so that it reacts quickly to safety issues.
The crisis also prompted GM to appoint a new safety chief and change the process for determining when vehicles should be recalled. That set off a wave of recalls by GM and other automakers that feared they would be caught not reacting quickly enough to safety problems.
GM has issued 44 recalls this year covering 17.7 million vehicles in the U.S. The auto industry has recalled 29 million vehicles this year, almost 50% more than it called back in the U.S. in all of last year. It is on pace to break the record of 30.8 million recalled vehicles set in 2004.
Barra may find a friendlier reception on Capitol Hill this week than she did when testifying in April, said George Cook, a former Ford marketing executive and business professor at the University of Rochester.
He said it would be hard for lawmakers to find fault with Barra's handling of the recall issue.
"She has taken very aggressive actions to clear the decks of any possible problems and is leaving no stone unturned," Cook said. "Unfortunately, the question now becomes: How deep does this quality control problem go at General Motors?"