June 11, 2014 at 9:01 pm

GM's Barra promises answers this time when she testifies before Congress

GM CEO Mary Barra in Detroit on Tuesday during the automaker's annual shareholders meeting (David Coates / The Detroit News)

Washington— General Motors CEO Mary Barra will return to Capitol Hill for the next round of hearings on the company’s ignition switch recall. The announcement came the same day that GM’s victims compensation adviser said a planned compensation fund won’t include owners of cars who claim the vehicles are worth less because of the recall.

Barra will testify before a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee at 10 a.m. Wednesday, a spokeswoman said. Also testifying is Anton Valukas, the lead author of the internal report into GM’s failure to recall 2.6 million Cobalts and other cars for more than a decade. The scathing report released last week laid the blame on a pattern of “incompetence and neglect” at GM in failing to address the defect linked to at least 13 deaths and 54 crashes.

Barra dismissed 15 executives — including many senior lawyers and GM’s vice president for regulatory affairs, Michael Robinson.

“Mr. Valukas’ exhaustive report revealed disturbing truths about GM’s systemic and cultural failures that allowed this problem to go undiagnosed for over a decade, but many questions remain unanswered about the recalls and resulting changes within the company,” Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, who chairs the full House committee, and Rep. Tim Murphy, who chairs the panel that will question Barra, said in a joint statement. “This testimony by Barra and Valukas is a critical step in our ongoing investigation to uncover the facts as we determine what went wrong and what we can do to prevent future tragedies.”

The committee has received more than 1 million pages of records from GM.

GM spokesman Greg Martin said, “Ms. Barra wants to return to Congress and update the House Energy and Commerce Committee members on the actions GM is taking in response to the ignition switch recall. As outlined by Ms. Barra last week, these efforts include fixing the failures identified in the Valukas report, building a culture centered on safety, quality and excellence, and doing what’s right for victims and their families.”

A Senate Commerce Committee panel also may hold its hearing next week or could push it back until July, though a committee spokeswoman declined to confirm the plan. The two committees held back-to-back hearings in early April.

Barra repeatedly couldn’t answer detailed questions during the first round of hearings in early April and pledged to return after the internal investigation was completed so she could answer more questions. Her performance was ridiculed by the “Saturday Night Live” cast and others.

Also Wednesday, GM’s victim compensation adviser Ken Feinberg confirmed he is not planning to introduce a compensation plan for millions of GM vehicle owners who may have suffered economic losses connected to the perceived decline in the value of their cars.

Feinberg told The Detroit News Wednesday that when he establishes a claims program, “it must have a modest life for the submission of claims. Both eligible claimants and GM are entitled to the certainty of a defined period of time for the submission of claims and the determination of both eligibility and amount.”

Feinberg said he doesn’t yet know “how many deaths, injuries, and crashes will be encompassed by the claims program. That remains to be seen. It will depend on the eligibility criteria and the number of individuals who submit claims. I’ll know better when the claims program is announced later this month.”

He confirmed that “whatever claims program I establish, will not include economic loss claims for e.g. ‘perceived diminished value.’ ” He said he was concerned only with death and physical injury claims.

GM faces more than 70 lawsuits tied to economic loss claims. A federal panel this week consolidated those cases in front of U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in New York. GM wants those cases tossed out because of GM’s liability shield it won under GM’s 2009 bankruptcy restructuring.

dshepardson@detroitnews.com