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GM withheld key data, official to tell Congress

WASHINGTON — The nation’s top auto safety regulator will seek to cast blame on General Motors when he testifies Tuesday before a House subcommittee looking into the Chevrolet Cobalt ignition problem.

In written testimony filed in advance, David Friedman, the acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, argues that “GM had critical information that would have helped identify this defect.” Formal written testimony is usually not read in its entirety in a hearing but becomes part of the official record. It gives strong indications about the tack that witnesses will take in the question-and-answer session that follows.

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Friedman is scheduled to testify before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations. The other witness is Mary T. Barra, the chief executive of General Motors, who is expected to strike an apologetic tone.

“Sitting here today, I cannot tell you why it took years for a safety defect to be announced,” she says in her filed testimony. But she pledged to be “fully transparent” when she had answers.

Barra also made public an offer previously communicated to dealers, that people who owned one of the recalled vehicles and did not want to drive it until it could be fixed, could get a loaner car or a rental from a GM dealer. She will add that “if a customer is already looking for another car, dealers can provide an additional cash allowance for the purchase or lease of a new vehicle.”

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Barra on Monday received a list of questions from top Democrats on the committee, who said they were told by Delphi, the parts manufacturer that supplied the switches, that the force needed to turn the key in the switches was in some cases only about one-quarter of the minimum specified by General Motors, and in 12 tests, only two of the samples reached two-thirds of the minimum force GM required.

Even the beefed-up switches installed in the 2008-11 model year Chevrolet Cobalts and HHRs, Saturn Ions and Skys, and Pontiac G5s and Solstices did not meet GM’s specification, Barra was told in a letter from Henry Waxman of California, the ranking Democrat on the full committee.

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