DETROIT -- Anton Valukas is about to become one of the most influential men in the auto industry.
Nearly three months ago, General Motors CEO Mary Barra drafted the former federal prosecutor to delve into some of the most vexing questions surrounding the company's botched response to a shoddy ignition switch: How could GM engineers decide that a car suddenly stalling wasn't a safety problem? How could top lawyers not have known about the potential defect, even after GM settled lawsuits involving crashes linked to the faulty switch?
Now the answers are coming due, as GM prepares to release findings from Valukas' investigation as early as this week.
Valukas was given "free rein" to follow the facts "unimpeded," Barra told members of Congress at hearings in April, during which she mentioned Valukas by name at least 15 times during four hours of testimony.
Those assurances have heightened expectations that Valukas' account will serve as the official narrative of what went wrong. GM is counting on Valukas' reputation to lend credibility to the findings. A former U.S. attorney who prosecuted judicial corruption in Chicago, Valukas compiled a 2,200-page report on Lehman Brothers' 2008 collapse, faulting executives for negligence. The judge who presided over the case said Valukas' account read "like a best-seller."
His review of GM's mishandling of the switch defect is likely to be a page turner in its own right, with big implications for the company and the industry.
Trial lawyers are sure to seize on the findings to build their cases. The report could influence how regulators and lawmakers move to safeguard against future lapses. And it could shape how GM further overhauls its own vehicle development processes.
Much is already known about the lapses that allowed the switch defect to linger for so long, from GM's account to regulators, findings from trial lawyers and leaked GM documents. The Valukas report could fill in many of the remaining blanks.