GM chief: Hearings 'tough but fair'

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After being grilled this week by lawmakers in a pair of contentious hearings, General Motors CEO Mary Barra said the questions she received about her company's recall of 1.6 million cars were "tough but fair." 

Barra, who is in her first year at the helm of GM, was hit with sharp criticism from lawmakers in both chambers and parties this week, as Congress investigated whether the auto company purposely delayed recalling cars that had faulty ignition switches to save on repair costs.

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The recall, issued in February, covers cars that are as old as 2004 models. 

Barra said in a statement Wednesday, after appearing before the Senate committee that handles transportation issues, that she was not offended by the criticism she received.

“The issues raised in the hearing were tough but fair," the GM chief said. "I appreciate the intense interest by the senators to fully understand what happened and why. I am going to accomplish exactly that, and we will keep Congress informed. Meanwhile, we will continue doing all we can to repair our customers' vehicles and rebuild their trust in GM.”

Various lawmakers took turns grilling Barra during her high-profile appearances between the House and Senate, which were her first trips to testify before Congress.

"You're new at your job, but you've been GM for how many years?" Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) asked Barra, who is a second-generation General Motors employee.

Barra made headlines in December, when she became the first woman to be placed in charge of a major U.S. automaker and the first female CEO of a major automaker. She took office as GM CEO in January, but lawmakers pointed out this week that she has worked for the company for 33 years.

"You're a really important person to this company," Boxer said after reading various positions Barra has held at GM. "Something is very strange that such a top employee would know nothing."

Boxer added at another point in Wednesday's hearing that she was disappointed in Barra "as a woman."

"As a woman to woman, I am very disappointed, because the culture that you are representing here today is a culture of the status quo," Boxer said in an exasperated tone.

The reception Barra received in the House on Tuesday was no more hospitable.

"GM knew about this problem in 2001,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.). “They were warned again and again over the next decade, but they did nothing.”

DeGette held up an ignition switch with keys hanging from it to illustrate how easily the ignition in the recalled vehicles could be cut.

Barra appeared to take the criticism in stride, saying repeatedly that she would do all she can now that she's in charge at GM to fix the problem.

"As soon as I learned about the problem, we acted without hesitation," Barra said. "We told the world we had a problem that needed to be fixed. We did so because whatever mistakes were made in the past, we will not shirk from our responsibilities now and in the future."