GM probe in­volves CEO

Mary Barra says she’s been in­ter­viewed in U.S. in­ves­ti­ga­tion of ig­ni­tion switch is­sue.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS -

Mary Barra has been in­ter­viewed by the Jus­tice Depart­ment in its in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the au­tomaker’s ig­ni­tion switch prob­lem.

Gen­eral Mo­tors Co. Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Mary Barra con­firmed Tues­day that she has been in­ter­viewed by the Jus­tice Depart­ment in its crim­i­nal probe of how the com­pany han­dled a deadly ig­ni­tion switch prob­lem in older small cars.

Barra said that the in­ter­view hap­pened last year and that she didn’t know when the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice in Man­hat­tan would re­lease the re­sults of its probe.

“We have co­op­er­ated fully. We con­tinue to do that,” she said. “It is their timeline,” she said about when charges could be filed.

Wire fraud prob­a­bly is among the statutes be­ing con­sid­ered by fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors be­cause GM used elec­tronic com­mu­ni­ca­tions to in­ter­act with the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion. In­ves­ti­ga­tors are fo­cused on whether GM failed to no­tify the fed­eral agency of the switch prob­lems and po­ten­tially tried to hide them. Au­tomak­ers must no­tify NHTSA within five days of find­ing out about a safety de­fect.

The switches in cars such as the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion can slip out of the run po­si­tion, shut­ting off the en­gine and dis­abling power steer­ing, power brakes and air bags. The prob­lem has caused at least 111 deaths and hun­dreds of in­juries. GM has ac­knowl­edged know­ing about the prob­lem for more than a decade, yet it didn’t re­call the 2.6 mil­lion cars un­til last year.

Last year the same U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice forced Toy­ota Mo­tor Corp. to pay a $1.2-bil­lion civil penalty for de­lays and cover-ups in un­in­tended ac­cel­er­a­tion cases. Toy­ota set­tled the case but ac­knowl­edged hid­ing in­for­ma­tion about de­fects. The Jus­tice Depart­ment also filed a wire fraud charge against Toy­ota that will be dis­missed in 2017 if the com­pany com­plies with the terms of the set­tle­ment.

Also Tues­day, Barra said GM doesn’t need to merge with Fiat Chrysler to take ad­van­tage of its size to save money on build­ing cars and trucks. She told re­porters be­fore GM’s an­nual meet­ing in Detroit that Fiat Chrysler CEO Ser­gio Mar­chionne had emailed her about merg­ing, but the pro­posal was dis­missed by GM’s se­nior man­age­ment and board.

GM is work­ing with Ford Mo­tor Co. on trans­mis­sions and Honda Mo­tor Co. on hy­dro­gen fuel cells and will look at op­por­tu­ni­ties with other au­tomak­ers, Barra said. But GM ex­pects to sell 10 mil­lion ve­hi­cles this year and is big enough to use its own size and scale to save money, she said.

Mar­chionne has been push­ing for con­sol­i­da­tion of au­tomak­ers, say­ing the in­dus­try wastes cap­i­tal de­vel­op­ing en­gines, trans­mis­sions and other parts that buy­ers don’t care about. But no com­pa­nies have agreed to merger talks, he said.

Bill Pugliano Getty Images

Bill Pugliano Getty Images

GEN­ERAL MO­TORS CEO Mary Barra tells re­porters be­fore GM’s an­nual meet­ing that Fiat Chrysler’s CEO emailed her about merg­ing, but the pro­posal was dis­missed by GM’s se­nior man­age­ment and board.

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