June 16, 2014 at 9:53 am

GM fixes 154,000 vehicles worldwide for ignition switch problem

General Motors Co. has repaired 154,000 vehicles for ignition switch defects worldwide. (Olivier Douliery / MCT)

Washington — A House committee says General Motors Co. has repaired 154,000 vehicles for ignition switch defects worldwide, while the automaker's outside attorney says the Detroit automaker placed "no limits" on his investigation.

The House Energy and Commerce's oversight and investigations subcommittee is holding a hearing on Wednesday with GM CEO Mary Barra and Anton Valukas, a former U.S. attorney from Chicago at Jenner & Block who led the three-month review of GM's failure to recall 2.6 million vehicles for more than a decade that are linked to 13 deaths and 54 crashes. Barra fired 15 employees — mostly executives — and disciplined five after receiving the Valukas report.

Barra testified in early April in front of House and Senate panels but said she couldn't answer many questions because of the ongoing Valukas investigation. The findings of the investigation — released late last month — showed a pattern of "incompetence and neglect" led to the failure to recall the vehicles for years.

In a memo by committee staff released Monday, GM has as of June 11 built 396,253 ignition switch repair kits that have been shipped globally and 154,731 vehicles repaired. In the United States, 339,672 kits have been shipped and 129,583 vehicles repaired. Three months after the recall started, only around 5 percent of the vehicles have been fixed.

GM has met with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to discuss ways to try to boost the number of people bringing vehicles in for repairs. The automaker offered tens of thousands of rental cars until it had parts available for repair.

The memo also said Valukas briefed committee staff on April 29.

"Mr. Valukas stated he was asked to determine 'how and why' it took so long for GM to issue the ignition switch recall for the Chevrolet Cobalt. Mr. Valukas informed committee staff that GM placed 'no limits' on his investigation; the report states that Mr. Valukas’ firm, Jenner & Block, was given 'unfettered access to witnesses and documents, and Jenner was asked for an unvarnished account.'"

The committee has received more than 1 million pages from GM, untold documents from Delphi Corp. — which built the faulty switch — and 15,000 pages from NHTSA.

"Since the last hearing, committee staff has conducted numerous interviews, including transcribed interviews, of key GM and NHTSA officials with knowledge of the facts and circumstances relating to the ignition switch recall. The committee expects to conduct additional interviews before completing its investigation," the memo said.

Among the questions the committee may examine at Wednesday's hearing, the memo said, are:

■Is the Valukas report the end of GM’s internal investigation of the facts related to the ignition switch recall?

■Does GM believe that the kinds of systemic failures and mistakes that contributed to the failure to issue a timely recall of the Cobalt and Ion ignition switches may have affected other investigations and recalls?

■How did the culture and systemic problems that are identified in the Valukas report develop at GM?

■What must be done to address these problems and when will GM know if they have been successfully fixed?

A Senate panel also plans to call Barra back but not likely until mid-July.