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GM enters harsh spotlight as Congress hearings begin

The U.S. Congress will try to establish who is to blame for at least 13 auto-related deaths over the past decade, as public hearings are launched on Tuesday on General Motors' slow response to defective ignition switches in cars.

Despite tougher laws being enacted in 2000 and 2010 to encourage automakers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to aggressively root out safety concerns, it took GM more than a decade to acknowledge publicly that it had a potentially fatal problem.

Stan Honda | AFP | Getty Images

Documents that GM and NHTSA turned over to the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee have provided new insights into GM's practices.

They include decisions to install ignition switches in Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other models that did not meet all of the company's own specifications.

Even worse, some in Congress are beginning to wonder whether more people died in cars outfitted with faulty switches, beyond the 13 GM identified, as they review documents pointing to a redesigned replacement part that also could be substandard.

The committee, as well as a Senate panel on Wednesday, is expected to begin demanding answers from GM on whether decisions like that directly contributed to crashes.

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