By Kirsten Korosec
FORTUNE -- General Motors CEO Mary Barra doesn't know why it took the automaker nearly 10 years to reveal an ignition switch problem that has been linked to 13 deaths.
But Barra, who took the helm of GM (GM) in January, will tell legislators in a congressional committee scheduled today that the company is investigating why it happened and has accelerated efforts to fix faulty ignition switches, according to her prepared testimony released Monday.
Barra has asked former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas to investigate the actions of GM. Valukas has been give "free rein" regardless of the outcome, according to Barra.
"I want to stress that I'm not waiting for his results to make changes," Barra said in her prepared testimony.
As evidence of her proactive approach, Barra pointed to the naming of a new vice president for global vehicle safety and the commissioning of two additional production lines to make new replacement parts for vehicles that are no longer in production.
The House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing scheduled for 2 p.m. ET will review the GM ignition switch recall, and legislators are expected to focus on how the automaker and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration responded to complaints from customers.
The hearing comes just one day after GM announced a separate recall of 1.3 million vehicles in the U.S. over concerns they may experience a sudden loss of electric power steering. On Friday, GM extended its ignition switch recall by another 824,000 vehicles to cover all model years of the Chevrolet Cobalt and HHR, Pontiac G5 and Solstice, and the Saturn Ion and Sky in the U.S. because faulty switches may have been used. In all, the ignition switch recall affects 2.19 million vehicles in the United States.
The company also announced Monday that it has more than doubled its first-quarter charge to $750 million to cover the cost of recall-related repairs. This amount includes a previously disclosed $300 million charge for three safety actions announced March 17 and the ignition switch recall announced Feb. 25.
GM's total number of recalled vehicles in the U.S., including the power steering issue, ignition switch, and three other safety issues, has now surpassed 5 million.
In February, GM informed the NHTSA about a defect in the 2005-2007 model year Chevrolet Cobalt and the 2007 Pontiac G5 vehicles. Under certain conditions, the ignition switch can move out of the "run" position, causing a partial loss of electrical power and the engine turning off, according to GM. The risk increases if a driver's key ring is carrying added weight or if the vehicle experiences rough road conditions. When the ignition switch is not in the run position, the air bags may not deploy if the vehicle is involved in a crash.
Problems with the ignition switch were identified as early as 2001 in a pre-production report for the model year 2003 Saturn Ion, according to documents provided by the House subcommittee. The report said a design change resolved the problem.
However, issues persisted, and in 2004 GM opened an engineering inquiry to look into a complaint that a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt vehicle could be "keyed off" while driving. Ultimately, no action was taken. A year later, the driver of a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt was killed in a crash. A NHTSA investigation determined the frontal airbag system didn't deploy and that the vehicle power mode status was in "accessory," not "run."
NHTSA's acting administrator David Friedman will tell legislators today that the agency did examine issues with the non-deployment of airbags in the recalled GM vehicles, but at the time did not find "sufficient evidence of a possible safety defect or defect trend that would warrant opening a formal investigation."
In his prepared testimony, Friedman deflects the blame, noting that "GM had critical information that would have helped identify this defect."
The expectations of institutions that sell and those that buy are two different things.
FORTUNE -- In a note to clients issued Monday afternoon, 24 hours before Apple (AAPL) is scheduled to release its earnings for the March quarter, Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster talked about something we don't hear much about: The so-called buy side.
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The focus next Tuesday will be on how efficiently Apple turned revenues into earnings.
FORTUNE -- Apple's (AAPL) shares have been getting slammed as Wall Street frets about its March quarter earnings report, due out next Tuesday.
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Morgan Stanley finds evidence that Apple's margins will improve before the end of 2013
FORTUNE -- Apple's (AAPL) quarterly gross margin -- the measure of how efficiently a company turns sales into profits -- peaked in March 2012 at an astonishing 47.4%, along with its quarterly stock performance (up 29%).
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Joel Ewanick, GM's recently installed global CMO, is charged with breathing new life into the company's disparate brands -- no small order.
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FORTUNE -- A conversation with Joel Ewanick, General Motors' chief marketing officer for the past ten months, doesn't proceed for long without his mention of "swim lanes."
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The quirky Swedish auto manufacturer may yet avoid extinction like its one-time siblings Pontiac and Saturn — but that looks more unlikely than ever.
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FORTUNE -- The bankruptcy filing of Saab Automobile AB, the subsidiary of Netherlands-based Swedish Automobile NV, could very well spell the end of Saab, the quirky car made by workers in Trollhattan, Sweden.
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The Japanese automaker was a perennial also-ran, behind Honda and Toyota. Until now. Nissan is making deft moves just as its rivals stall.
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Mark Hurd's departure is mired in muck, but C-suite headhunters are sure to focus less on the rumors than on the possibilities.
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The mystery company helping GM's OnStar isn't a mystery anymore.
Google I/O is turning out to be a pretty interesting conference this year with GM now acknowledging the speculation that they are working with Google.
(I'll be dropping in at Google I/O and dropping posts on location tomorrow and Thursday).
Today, GM announced that they'd be showing up at Google I/O to demonstrate the new Android app that will accompany the Chevy Volt and MORESeth Weintraub - May 18, 2010 12:44 PM ET
The Google vs. Microsoft war might heat up with GM's discussions to develop in-car telematics with Google.
A recent CNNMoney article revealed that GM was working with a mysterious partner on its OnStar systems for the new Chevy Volt and eventually across its product lines.
This year's OnStar relaunch involves a major technology push inside GM as well a partnership with a major outside technology company, said Preuss, who declined to reveal MORESeth Weintraub - May 12, 2010 11:12 AM ET
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