DETROIT (WWJ/AP) - General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra will testify next month at a hearing by a House panel investigating the delayed recall of 1.6 million small GM cars, according to an announcement made Thursday.
The investigative panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hear Barra's testimony on April 1. The head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, David Friedman, has been invited to testify the same day.
This week Barra apologized for deaths linked to the delayed recall, saying GM took too long to tell owners to take their cars in for repairs of a defect involving ignition switches.
Barra stopped short of saying the company would compensate families of those killed in crashes caused by faulty ignition switches. But she said GM would do what's right for customers after it completes an internal investigation, which she expects to take about seven months to finish.
"I am very sorry for the loss of life that occurred, and we will take every step to make sure this never happens again," she said.
GM has acknowledged it learned about the problem switches at least 11 years ago, yet it failed to recall the cars until last month. Barra, who became CEO on Jan. 15, said Tuesday that she found out about the switch problem in late December and had no knowledge of it before that.
Barra said GM is looking through its database for more crash deaths that could be tied to the ignition switch problem. That number is likely to rise above the 12 currently cited by the company, as GM and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration review accident reports and consumer complaints.
Barra also named a new head of global safety, one day after telling employees that GM is pushing to resolve safety issues more quickly.
The Department of Justice is investigating whether any laws were broken in the way Detroit-based GM handled the recall.
On Feb. 13, GM announced the recall of more than 780,000 Chevrolet Cobalts and Pontiac G5s (model years 2005-2007). Two weeks later it added 842,000 Ion compacts (2003-2007), and Chevrolet HHR SUVs and Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky sports cars (2006-2007). All of the recalled cars have the same ignition switches.
The company said the ignition switches can wear from heavy, dangling keys. If the key chains are bumped or people drive on rough surfaces, the switches can suddenly change from the "run" position to "accessory" or "off." That cuts off power-assisted steering and brakes and could cause drivers to lose control. Also, the air bags may not inflate in a crash and protect the driver and passengers.
GM is urging people not to put anything on their key rings until the switches are replaced. Barra said she expects all the cars to be repaired by sometime in October.
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