By Jeff Plungis and Tim Higgins, Crain News Service
WASHINGTON (July 16, 2014) — General Motors Co.'s top lawyer said his staff made mistakes in handling an ignition-switch defect and delayed recall that spurred U.S. government investigations.
Some lawyers failed the company, Michael Millikin, GM's general counsel, said in written testimony to be delivered to a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee on July 17.
Advance copies of remarks of five witnesses, including GM's CEO Mary Barra, were obtained by Bloomberg News.
“We had lawyers at GM who didn't do their jobs; didn't do what was expected of them,” Mr. Millikin said in his statement. “Those lawyers are no longer with the company.”
GM has recalled almost 26 million cars in the U.S. so far this year, an all-time annual record that took shape in February when the company announced an ignition-switch defect that engineers had known about for years. This week's hearing is GM's fourth since April 1 and will be more comprehensive, featuring Kenneth Feinberg, who is administering a victim-compensation program, and Anton Valukas, who led GM's internal investigation.
Rodney O'Neal, CEO of Delphi Automotive, is also appearing alongside Ms. Barra and Mr. Millikin.
In her testimony, Ms. Barra reiterates that the company's employees won't forget the lessons of the recall, and they're working hard to address the underlying issues.
“I have been inundated with calls and emails from employees telling me that they are more motivated than ever to make GM the best possible company for customers,” Ms. Barra said.
At least 13 deaths in crashes have been blamed on a flawed ignition switch, which can be inadvertently shut off when jarred, cutting power to the engine and deactivating air bags. It was later revealed that deliberations about the flaw were occurring as far back as 2005, though no formal recall actions were taken until this year.
That delay has led to investigations by the Transportation Department, both chambers of Congress and federal prosecutors.
In a related matter, the chairwoman of the Senate panel holding Thursday's hearing told a Detroit newspaper on July 15 that she may broaden an examination beyond GM's safety problems to determine whether there are systemic recall issues at other auto makers.