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October 24, 2014

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GM, safety agency face Congress over recalls

WASHINGTON — Congress will press General Motors' new CEO at a hearing Tuesday about why GM sold cars with an ignition switch that failed to meet its own specifications, and then failed to heed the recommendations of engineers to fix the part.

In all, they will want to know why it took GM a decade to recall cars with the faulty switches, which the company now links to 13 deaths and dozens of crashes.

Some current GM car owners and relatives of those who died in crashes are also in Washington seeking answers. The group held a press conference where they demanded action against GM and stiffer legislation to prevent serious auto vehicle problems.

GM has recalled 2.6 million cars for the faulty switch. That recall prompted the automaker to name a new safety chief and review its recall processes. The company says new switches should be available starting April 7. Concerned owners can ask dealers for a loaner car while waiting for the replacement part.

Lawmakers will also seek answers Tuesday from the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the nation's auto safety watchdog, about why the agency failed to investigate the GM cars despite numerous complaints from consumers about the cars stalling. Also, one of its top defects investigators proposed an investigation of the GM cars for air bags not deploying in 2007. A NHTSA panel decides not to open an investigation, according to a timeline released by the House subcommittee holding the hearing.

Whether members will get the answers they're seeking is unclear. In prepared remarks, Barra says she doesn't know "why it took years for a safety defect to be announced," but that "we will find out." GM has hired an outside attorney to lead an investigation of the company's safety processes.

In his prepared remarks, NHTSA chief David Friedman points the finger at GM, saying the automaker had information last decade that could have led to a recall, but only shared it last month.

The victims' families will attend the hearing, wearing blue shirts featuring a photo of 16-year-old Amber Marie Rose, who was killed in a 2005 Cobalt crash, and the words "Protect Our Children."

Laura Christian, birth mother of Amber Marie Rose, a teenager who died in a 2005 Maryland crash involving a Chevrolet Cobalt, said about 30 family members met with Barra and two GM attorneys Monday night. She said they got little reaction.

"A lot of, 'I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry,' " Christian said.

GM would not comment on details of the meeting.

House Energy and Commerce Committee member Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, said Tuesday that Democratic committee staff members found 133 warranty claims filed with GM over 10 years detailing customer complaints of sudden engine stalling when they drove over a bump or brushed keys with their knees.

The claims were filed between June 2003 and June 2012.

"GM shouldn't be receiving information over a 10-year period and not taking action to either inform the public or recall the vehicles," Waxman said.

Renee Trautwein, whose daughter Sarah Trautwein died while driving a 2005 Cobalt in June 2009 in South Carolina, said she is "sickened" by revelations that GM had multiple warranty claims about the problem yet did nothing.

"I think they should be taken off the road today," she said of the recalled GM cars.

Durbin reported from Detroit. Associated Press writer Marcy Gordon in Washington contributed to this report.

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