A U.S. Senate panel will hold its first hearing on April 2 to probe how General Motors and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration handled recalls over the past decade of malfunctioning GM ignition switches, which are linked to 12 deaths.
The Senate's Commerce subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance will hold the hearing one day after the House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Committee holds a hearing on the same topic.
GM's chief executive, Mary Barra, and the NHTSA's acting director, David Friedman, are expected to testify at both hearings.
In February, GM announced it was recalling 1.6 million vehicles due to concerns that faulty ignition switches could unexpectedly shut off engines while operating and also make air bags inoperable in crashes.
Congress wants to know why it took GM and the NHTSA so long to act since the problem first surfaced in 2001 and there were repeated warnings from consumers in following years.
Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who chairs the Senate panel, announced the hearing on Wednesday, saying: "We have to make sure federal regulators have the tools and information they need to prevent life-threatening tragedies for consumers."
Also on Wednesday, Barra spoke about the ignition problem directly to customers for the first time in short videos posted on YouTube and accessible on a GM blog. (See http://www.youtube.com/user/gmblogs/videos?flow=grid&view=0)
In the four videos, each lasting no longer than 38 seconds, Barra says, as she has earlier told reporters, that the company is investigating how it failed to fix the defects sooner and that she will ensure that this type of problem never happens again at GM.
In one of the videos called "message to customers," Barra says: "We will learn from this and we will be a better company."
And in a video addressing the delay in recalling the vehicles, she says: "Clearly the fact that it took over 10 years indicates that we have work to do to improve our process and we are dedicated to doing that."