GM CEO Mary Barra
GM CEO Mary Barra (L) and Anton Valukas testify before Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington, on 18 June, 2014. Reuters

General Motors is being grilled by Congress about disregarding the safety of its customers after emails from 2005 revealed that a GM employee had warned a "big recall" may be needed because of an ignition switch fault, which is only now being addressed by the company.

Emails made public on 18 June showed that GM employee Laura Andres in 2005 wrote to engineers and to the then vice president of North American engineering Ed Koerner, warning that a 2006 Chevy Impala Special car she owned had suffered an engine stall when moving between a paved road and gravel.

Andres' email added that a technician told her the problem could be with part of the ignition switch. The 2006 Impala was recalled only on 16 June.

GM chief executive officer Mary Barra answered to the revelations: her third appearance before Congress since the carmaker began recalling millions of vehicles in February, relating to the ignition flaw, which has been linked to at least 13 deaths in past 10 years.

Barra promised GM will compensate all victims who suffered a serious physical injury, as well as families of victims who died in car crashes linked to faulty ignition switches.

"We are currently conducting what I believe is the most exhaustive, comprehensive safety review in the history of the company," Barra said in her testimony before Congress on Wednesday.

"I think the important thing is, as it relates to stalls, we consider stalls to be a safety issue. And if it is because of a defect, we're going to take action," Barra said after the hearing, referring to the emails.

GM's stock finished 0.17% lower on 18 June in New York and has dropped some 10.79% this year.

Mounting Recalls

GM has recalled over 20 million vehicles this year, mostly in the US. Close to 6.5 million of these were recalled because of ignition switch faults.

Earlier this week, GM said it will recall three million cars owing to the ignition switch defect. It recalled 2.6 million cars in March and February to fix a similar problem.

General Motors has fired 15 employees and has taken disciplinary action against five others for their roles in the botched handling of the ignition-switch defect and related vehicle recalls, linked to 13 deaths, Barra said on 6 June.

Barra announced the dismissals after the company put out a report detailing how for over a decade GM employees heard from customers, dealers, their own colleagues and the press that faulty ignition switches were behind moving vehicle stalls, but failed to take action.

The report, based on an internal investigation led by former US Attorney Anton Valukas, blamed incompetent lower-level employees for the mishandling of the ignition-switch problem but surprisingly absolved GM's top brass of any wrongdoing.