Nightly News   |  April 01, 2014

GM CEO Apologizes to Families for Defects

New GM CEO Mary Barra faced tough questions from victims’ families on the Hill today, but failed to offer insight into GM’s handling of the ignition switch defect.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> good evening. the biggest automaker in this country. a company synonymous with an entire industry has a big problem on its hands. the new ceo of gm appeared before congress. and it quickly got testy, because her company finds itself explaining faulty ignition switches, deadly accidents and a recall that's at least a decade too late. many of the victim's family members went to washington today to see the testimony for themselves. most of the cars involved here are in the inexpensive range. especially when sold on the used car market, they're often the first car a lot of young people drive. that's why a lot of young people are among the victims. today the ceo faced both lawmakers and those family members, and we begin tonight with nbc's tom costello on capitol hill tonight. tom, good evening.

>> reporter: hi, brian, the new ceo mary barra has been with the company 30 years, but she knew nothing about cars shutting down, air bags failing until she became ceo in january. the horrific stories of accidents and fatalities have filled the headlines for weeks. gm confirms at least 32 crashes and 13 deaths linked to a faulty emission switch it knew about a decade ago, yet failed to warn customers. today, seven weeks after announcing a world wide recall. gm's new ceo faced an angry congress and promised to do the right thing.

>> let me begin with my sincere apologies for the victims affected by this recall.

>> this has his ashes in it, my daughter had it done for me. i wear it every day.

>> sherry sharky came for her 21-year-old son michael who died after his car went off the road in upstate new york and caught fire.

>> when i close my eyes , i see my son's face and imagine the worst, what he had to go through. that's all i can see.

>> reporter: gm knew as early as 2001 it had a problem. in 2005 it declined to make a stopgap fix citing costs. an internal gm document showing that in 2006 a design engineer signed off on a redesign for part of the ignition switch. the name on that form, ray digorgio. he said he did not know about the changes to the switch.

>> any such change was made, it was made without your knowledge?

>> that is correct.

>> reporter: the gm document appears to have been signed bydy giorgio himself. he's not responded to our request for comment. gm ordered a fix for new cars in 2006 but never told existing customers they may be at risk. regulators say they were never told either.

>> our ability to find defects requires automakers to act in good faith and provide information on time.

>> reporter: nick and kim langry wonder whether their son would be alive if gm had ordered a recall.

>> why wasn't this done sooner? it's been six years.

>> you're relating specific incidents that happened --

>> you don't know about that?

>> barra was pressed whether her company would be accountable.

>> is the company responsible?

>> we will make the best decisions for our customers. recognizing we have legal obligations and responsibilities as well as moral obligations.

>> gm said today it's hired ken feinberg, the man who ran the 9/11 fund to look at issues and programs for gm customers, gm is not yet committing to a financial settlement. this is costing the company a bundle. $750 million in the first quarter after a profit of 9$900 million in late 2013 .

>> tom costello, thanks.