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Safety More Important Than Cost at New GM, CEO Barra Says

General Motors' CEO Mary Barra defended the maker against charges of a coverup over recalling millions of cars with defective ignitions blamed for 13 deaths.

General Motors' CEO Mary Barra defended the automaker against charges of a coverup on Wednesday during a senate hearing investigating why GM took so long to recall 2.6 million cars for a defective ignition switch blamed for 13 deaths.

"There was a culture of coverup that allowed an engineer at GM to lie under oath," Sen. Claire McCaskill, (D-Mo.) said in an opening statement during the Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee in Washington.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday. Barra was back before Congress, where members of a Senate subcommittee expressed doubts that the culture at the nation's No. 1 automaker has really changed.Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Barra, a 33-year veteran of GM, who also gave testimony to a House committee on Tuesday, stressed that the company had been transformed since she became chief executive in January.

"That is unacceptable in today's GM," she said of the charge that the automaker concealed a defective ignition switch that might cause the engine to shut down while driving and fail to deploy safety airbags.

"We don't condone it, but with any safety defect, there is no calculation of the cost," Barra said, adding that she only knew about the ignition switch problem in January.

McCaskill, who chairs the Senate subcommittee on consumer protection and product safety, told Barra: "It might have been the Old GM that started sweeping this defect under the rug 10 years ago.

"Even under the New GM banner, the company waited nine months to take action after being confronted with specific evidence of this egregious violation of public trust."

McCaskill said that "a culture of cover-up" caused a GM ignition switch engineer to give untruthful testimony as part of a lawsuit related to a 2010 crash in Georgia.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, (D-Conn.) asked why GM did not just "come clean" and set up a fund to compensate victims. "It is pretty incontrovertible that GM knew about this defect and concealed it from the customer."

Barra stressed that GM would not take action in the case until after an internal investigation was completed. That included setting up a compensation fund.