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Under questioning, she said the automaker’s decision not to make the fix because of cost considerations was “disturbing” and unacceptable, and she assured members of Congress that that kind of thinking represents the old General Motors, and “that is not how GM does business” today.

“I think we in the past had more of a cost culture,” Barra said, adding that it is moving toward a more customer-focused culture.

Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, read from an e-mail exchange between GM employees and those at Delphi, which made the switch. One said that the Cobalt is “blowing up in their face in regards to the car turning off.”

Murphy asked why, if the problem was so big, GM didn’t replace all of them in cars already on the road.

“Clearly there were a lot of things happening” at that time, Barra said.

In his prepared remarks, David Friedman, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, pointed the finger at GM, saying the automaker had information last decade that could have led to a recall, but shared it only last month.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said that House Energy and Commerce Committee staff members found 133 warranty claims filed with GM over 10 years detailing customer complaints of sudden engine stalling when they drove over a bump or brushed keys with their knees.

The claims were filed between June 2003 and June 2012.

Waxman said that because GM didn’t undertake a simple fix when it learned of the problem, “at least a dozen people have died in defective GM vehicles.”

Some current GM car owners and relatives of those who died in crashes were also in Washington seeking answers. The group attended the hearing after holding a news conference demanding action against GM and stiffer legislation.

Owners of the recalled cars can ask dealers for a loaner vehicle while waiting for the replacement part. Barra said GM has provided more than 13,000 loaners.

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Durbin reported from Detroit. Associated Press writer Marcy Gordon in Washington contributed to this report.