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GM still unsure of costs of ignition recall

General Motors chief executive Mary Barra said the company has not yet figured out how much its deadly, faulty car ignitions will cost the company.

DETROIT: General Motors (GM) chief executive Mary Barra said on Tuesday the company has not yet figured out how much its deadly, faulty car ignitions will cost the company.

GM has already set aside US$1.7 billion to cover some of the costs of recalling 2.6 million cars with the problem ignition switches, Barra said at the company's annual shareholders meeting.

But it is facing possibly having to spend billions more to answer lawsuits from car owners and victims of crashes tied to the ignition problem, as well as their relatives.

"We're going to have a compensation program," said Barra. "Our goal is to make sure everyone affected or who lost a loved one or suffered serious physical injury is compensated."

Barra stuck to the company's estimate of 54 ignition-related accidents and 13 deaths since 2004, but others have said the toll could be significantly higher.

An internal investigation released by GM last week showed a 12 year history of company officials ignoring that ignitions can switch off while a car is in motion, turning off power steering and, crucially, air bag deployment.

Scores of lawsuits have been filed against the company by car owners and victims, and GM has hired a specialist in victim compensation to determine how to set payouts and to whom.

"Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our customers," Barra said.

"We are relying on the expertise of Kenneth Feinberg, who is experienced in designing and administering complex compensation programs."

Feinberg is expected to come up with a plan by next month.

Outside GM's Detroit headquarters on Tuesday, a handful of demonstrators from the "GM Recall Survivors Network" protested.

Laura Christian, whose teenaged daughter died in an accident in 2005 which she says was tied to the faulty switch, said data shows there have been as many as 120 fatal accidents tied to the defect.

Christian admitted that alcohol was involved in her daughter's accident.

But investigators also concluded that the 16-year-old would have lived had the air bags deployed. The air bags failed to inflate when the ignition switch in the car turned off suddenly, she said.

The report GM released last week, and the dismissal of 15 employees for failing to address the problems, didn't go far enough, Christian said.

"GM's own engineers didn't know how their own cars worked. That seems incredible," she said.

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