UPDATE 6:10 p.m. EDT: Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., chairman of the subcommittee, closed the hearing.
UPDATE 5:50 p.m. EDT: Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, asks what level of accidents or deaths triggers a "more than normal NHTSA review," pointing out that at least 13 deaths were believed to be caused by the ignition switch defect.
Friedman said "red flags" were raised and the issue of the GM crashes was brought to a panel but results were inconclusive, adding that "circumstances were complicated."
"I wish these crashes were as simple as they appear to be" now, he said.
UPDATE 5:23 p.m. EDT: Friedman said the NHTSA gave GM an April 3 deadline for providing documents related to the ignition switch issue and recall, and it appears that the company may not be able to make the deadline. He said the agency "will hold them accountable" if it finds GM withheld critical information from the NHTSA. Friedman said possible punishments include hefty fines against the automaker.
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UPDATE 4:49 p.m. EDT: David Friedman, acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the agency has been reviewing ways to address potential defects like the faulty GM ignition switches and will hold GM accountable.
He said the agency reviewed data in 2007 about airbag failures to deploy with Chevy Cobalts and Saturn Ions, but neither model "stood out when compared to other vehicles," and the NHTSA did not launch a formal investigation.
In 2010, Friedman said, the agency found that consumer complaint rates on the Cobalt dropped by nearly 50 percent since the 2007 review and data was "not sufficient to launch a formal investigation."
"NHTSA was concerned and engaged on this case," he said, calling the matter "a difficult case."
He said the agency is reviewing ways to address defect possibilities, but he also said it "requires automakers to act in good faith," referring to GM only recently giving the NHTSA information about the faulty ignition switches.
"Had this information been available earlier, it likely would have changed NHTSA's approach to this issue," Friedman said.
UPDATE 4:26 p.m. EDT: Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., noted that GM rejected alternative designs for the faulty ignition switches in 2004, finding that the change would have cost 57 cents per unit.
"I find that decision unacceptable, as I've stated," Barra said. Barra became CEO in January, nearly 10 years after that decision.
Castor also said the committee learned through documents that GM knew about the faulty ignition switches as early as 2001. That's when Delphi Automotive, the supplier of the switches, found the parts didn't meet GM standards, yet the automaker installed the switches on Chevy Cobalts and Saturn Ions.
UPDATE 4:19 p.m. EDT: Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., said General Motors has a credibility problem in wake of the recall.
"We don't trust the company right now," he said. "We have to get to the bottom of this."
UPDATE 4:15 p.m. EDT: Barra said GM is evaluating whether it should implement push button ignition switches "across the portfolio" of General Motors vehicles in response to a question from Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., who said the recall issues wouldn't have existed had the vehicles in question had push-button ignition switches.
UPDATE 3:58 p.m. EDT: Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., asked Barra why GM's team of engineers didn't "connect the dots" and realize that airbags wouldn't function in the vehicles affected by the recall. Barra suggested that that's one of the things GM is trying to figure out.
"Congressman, those are the questions I want to answer," Barra responded.
UPDATE 3:40 p.m. EDT: "This incident took way too long; it is not acceptable," Barra said about the recall. She said GM will make "process changes and people changes" following an independent investigation into the recall led by Anton Valukas. She said it is safe to drive the affected vehicles if drivers have either just the ignition key or the ignition key as the only key on a keyring. "We believe it is safe based on our testing," she said.
General Motors (NYSE:GM) CEO Mary Barra is being grilled Tuesday on Capitol Hill by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for the company’s recall of more than 2 million cars in the U.S. for problems with the vehicles’ ignition switch.
The hearing, titled “The GM Ignition Switch Recall: Why Did It Take So Long?” was scheduled to examine why GM didn’t recognize the defects in certain models sooner than February, among other concerns.