GM CEO Mary Barra told of Saturn Ion steering problem in 2011; company called "slow to act"

(WXYZ) - Under oath last week, General Motors CEO Mary Barra said she didn’t learn about the company’s deadly ignition switch defect until last December.

Lawmakers seemed skeptical, because Barra was one of the company’s most powerful figures for years.

But years earlier, she was notified about a sudden loss of power steering in the Saturn Ion--one of the vehicles that would eventually be recalled over the ignition defect.

In October 2011, while Barra was head of product development for GM, she received an e-mail from the company’s global quality chief.  He was forwarding a New York Times story about a problem with the Ion about a “sudden loss of electric power steering” that could cause crashes. The e-mail told Barra that the “situation has been evolving” and officials “will meet and understand the latest data.”

The e-mail mentioned almost 3,500 customer complaints and two injuries caused by the steering problem. But the e-mail does not mention specifically any problems with defective ignitions, which led to the recall of 2.6 million vehicles this year.

The e-mails released on Friday also showed that government regulators investigating General Motors were frustrated by the company, calling them “slow to communicate, slow to act…” and that dealing with the company sometimes “requires additional effort…that we do not feel is necessary with some of your peers.”

Even under oath, Barra conceded that GM didn’t always share vital vehicle information--and that some valued cost over safety.