GM Chief Makes A Return Trip To The Hill, Where A Grilling Awaits

General Motors CEO Mary Barra faced another grueling hearing on Capitol Hill, two weeks after a critical internal report blasted the company's handling of defective ignition switches as incompetent. GM has recalled 20 million vehicles already this year and has set aside $700 million to cover repairs related to the recall.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. The head of General Motors returned, once again, to Congress today, to testify about the company's mishandling of defective and dangerous ignition switches. Mary Barra got a more subdued reception, compared to the last time she was on Capitol Hill. She answered questions about a report that found a pattern of incompetence and neglect at GM. The automaker has now recalled more than 20 million cars and trucks worldwide, but only a small percentage have been fixed. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: There is a script that Mary Barra, General Motors' CEO, has been following since GM's ignition switch debacle began. Page one, first paragraph - contrition.

MARY BARRA: I want to, again, express my sympathies to the families that lost loved ones and those two who suffered physical injury.

GLINTON: Next she says the company is taking responsibility for it's previous actions and is embarrassed for the failures. In this case, Barra came armed with a report prepared by Anton Valukas, a former U.S. attorney.

BARRA: It paints a picture of an organization that failed to handle a complex safety issue in a responsible way. I was deeply saddened and disturbed as I read the report.

GLINTON: Then, she promises.

BARRA: This is not another business challenge. This is a tragic problem that should never have happened and must never happen again.

GLINTON: Now, the new thing is that Barra gave a timeline for when victims of the ignition switch defect will be compensated. Barra told Congress numbers that GM will begin paying out victims on August 1st. The main finding of the report that GM had commissioned was, essentially, there was widespread negligence and incompetence on the part of General Motors.

REPRESENTATIVE TIM MURPHY: This report could be subtitled, don't assume malfeasance when incompetence will do. There's more to it than that. We all have to take responsibility.

GLINTON: That's Pennsylvania Republican Tim Murphy. There was a good amount of scolding over GM's failures to tell customers that in their small vehicles, they could easily jostle the keys out of drive position, which would cause the vehicles to stall and concern that right now GM may not be doing enough to tell people about current dangers.

BARRA: We have done extensive communications because I don't want any other incidents to occur.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ma'am I hear what you've done. I'm talking about what you - I would recommend you still do. I would highly recommend that what you do in this situation is make it very clear. If you don't do this, you could be in a serious accident. In order for GM to work on safety, customers have to pay attention to this, too.

GLINTON: So far, only a small number of cars with the key problems have been fixed - about 7 percent. But while GM is recalling 20 million vehicles worldwide, Chrysler is also recalling millions of trucks for an ignition switch problem, and almost all the other carmakers are setting the bar lower for what makes them send customers back to their local dealer. In the last few months, GM car dealers, especially, have been reluctant to talk about recalls. I reached Bill Fox by cell phone at the airport. He's a little different.

BILL FOX: Sure, every time there's a recall that is added business for the dealer, and that - the people in your area are going to bring their car to you.

GLINTON: Fox and his sister Jane sell Chevys, Hondas, Toyotas, Chryslers and Subarus in upstate New York. He also is the Vice Chairman of the National Automotive Dealers Association, so he has a dog in this fight. He says there's a backlog fixing GM vehicles, but others as well.

FOX: I've yet to hear of anyone being angry - in a hard place - over delays and availability of cars. We've got the service department open extended hours. And of course the employees like that because that's extra money for them.

GLINTON: With more than 17 million GM cars to fix in the U.S. and a record number of recalls this year in the industry, if there is a winner, it might be your local car dealer. Sonari Glinton, NPR Mews.

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