More Problems For Mary Barra: Documents Suggest GM Knew About Safety Issues In Recalled Cars

Files released by a House committee have lawmakers questioning if newly appointed CEO Mary Barra misled Congress in an earlier testimony.

More Problems For Mary Barra: Documents Suggest GM Knew About Safety Issues In Recalled Cars
[Image: Flickr user Michael Kumm]

When General Motors CEO Mary Barra testified in front of Congress earlier this month, she said she wasn’t aware of a dangerous problem with the ignition switch on the Chevrolet Cobalt until December, two months before its recall. On Friday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee released documents that suggest she actually knew of safety issues with the Cobalt as early as 2011.


Since the new year, General Motors has issued seven recalls affecting 4.8 million automobiles, including 2.5 million compact cars. Thirteen deaths over more than a decade are linked to problems with GM vehicles. The number of cars recalled thus far this year is six times the number of automobiles GM recalled in 2013.

The 700 pages of internal documents the House committee released included an email from October 2011 that shows an engineer warned Barra, then vice president of global product development, of power steering problems in the Cobalt and other models. Terry Woychowski, a senior GM engineer, sent the email to Barra and copied safety lawyer William Kemp, noting the Saturn Ion could have power-steering problems similar to the Chevy Cobalt and Pontiac G5.

Mary, During the initial Cobalt case, the Ion data did not justify being included. The situation has been evolving. We will meet and understand the latest data.

In January, Barra took the reins of GM, becoming the first female CEO of any major American automobile company.

GM has responded to the released documents with a statement saying the Saturn Ion steering issue is “completely separate from ignition-related recalls.” Still, lawmakers remain wary, questioning why such problems weren’t made public earlier.

About the author

Based in San Francisco, Alice Truong is Fast Company's West Coast correspondent. She previously reported in Chicago, Washington D.C., New York and most recently Hong Kong, where she (left her heart and) worked as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.