WASHINGTON, DC (WWJ) – General Motors CEO Dan Akerson defended both the Chevy Volt and his company’s independence before a congressional committee Wednesday.
“Although we loaded the Volt with state-of-the-art safety features, we did not engineer the Volt to be a political punching bag,” said Akerson, testifying before the House Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, Stimulus Oversight and Government Spending.
Akerson defended the Volt’s safety, and an investigation into a fire following a Volt crash test last June. He says word of the fire wasn’t made public because they didn’t know it was a safety risk. Just last week, the government ruled that they could find no fire risk with the Volt.
The fire occurred several weeks following that crash test.
“Based on those test results, did we think there was an imminent safety risk? No,” said Akerson. “Or, as one customer put it, If they couldn’t cut him out of a vehicle in two or three weeks, he had a bigger problem to worry about.”
Akerson and National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland appeared at a hearing titled, “Volt Vehicle Fire: What did NHTSA Know and When Did They Know It?”
Had there been a real safety risk, Strickland said it would have been communicated to the public immediately.
“The agency found no indication of a post-fire crash risk in the Volt,” he said. “Nor, were we able to re-create the June incident at the vehicle level.”
It took several months, Strickland says, before engineers from the government and GM could figure out exactly what caused the fires, and what the risk was.
“It is irresponsible, frankly illegal, for us to go forward and tell the American public that there is something wrong with a car when we don’t know what it is or not,” he said.
California Republican Congressman Darryl Issa was not impressed with Strickland’s answers, saying:
“I hear you. I don’t believe you.”
Both Republicans and Democrats on the committee were much more polite in their questioning of Akerson. But, the committee remained divided along partisan lines when it came to questions about the government assistance given to General Motors.
“The government has been involved in this far deeper than they ever should have been to begin with,” said Congressman Mike Kelly, a Pennsylvania Republican, and GM dealer. “Mr. Akerson knows how to run GM He has a history of running great companies. He does not need anybody who’s never run a company to tell him how to spend the money.”
Akerson, who joined the General Motors board in the summer of 2009, and became CEO a year later, has been a life-long member of the Republican party, and supported John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. He said he wouldn’t have joined General Motors if it was a government run company.
“I will testify in front of the good Lord that this administration has never had a presence in the boardroom, or any input in the operations of the business,” he testified.
General Motors is beginning an ad campaign to restore the reputation of the Volt, which Akerson says received “collateral damage” from all the negative publicity.
The hearing brought back memories of 2008 congressional appearances by the CEOs of the major auto companies, asking for government help. While General Motors is now making money, Akerson was asked one question that created a major stir in 2008.
“I’m just curious, how did you get here,” asked Congreswoman Carolyn Maloney of New York. “Did you fly, did you take a train, did you drive. How did you get to this hearing?”
The GM CEO with a very brief answer
“I drove a Volt!”
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