Document: GM's Barra Got an Email About Steering Problems in 2011

Mary Barra
General Motors CEO Mary Barra testifies before the Senate Commerce and Transportation Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance subcommittee in Washington April 2, 2014. Gary Cameron/Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. congressional committee on Friday said there were "failures within the system" over the handling of flawed ignition switches in General Motors Co vehicles, which have been linked to 13 deaths.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton said that initial documents provided to his panel revealed those failures. Upton also said that there was "much left to examine" in its ongoing investigation of the recalls, which came more than a decade after the company first noticed a problem.

According to one document obtained by the committee, GM CEO Mary Barra, who assumed the top position in January, received an email in 2011 pointing to steering problems in GM models that later were recalled.

That email cited a New York Times story dated October 3, 2011, which reported on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration deliberations concerning Saturn Ions and Chevrolet Cobalts that were experiencing steering problems related to a loss of power.

The email to Barra, however, does not mention ignition switch problems.

Meanwhile, NHTSA, the agency that oversees automaker safety problems, stated in a 2013 email to GM that the company was "slow to communicate, slow to act" on defects and recalls.

In February, GM recalled 2.6 million cars, including Ions and Cobalts, due to concerns that faulty ignition switches could cause the vehicles' engines to turn off during operation. That, in turn, can prevent airbags from operating and cause power steering and power brakes to not operate as intended.

The House committee, which held its first public hearing on April 1, is trying to determine whether GM officials failed to react in a timely way to the critical safety defect and whether NHTSA regulators also may have failed to carry out their duties.

More than 250,000 documents from GM and NHTSA have been submitted to the House committee.