U.S. safety regulators are demanding that General Motors hand over reams of documents and other data showing that the company knew about a dangerous auto defect involving ignition issues that has been linked to 13 car-crash fatalities.
According to a news report in The Associated Press, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is investigating how GM handled the problem, which led to a global recall of 1.6 million older-model compact cars.
GM has acknowledged that it knew about the ignition problem, which prevented the airbag from deploying during crashes, 10 years ago. But the automaker did not recall the vehicles with defective auto parts until last month.
On Feb. 13, GM announced the recall of more than 780,000 Chevrolet Cobalts and Pontiac G5s (model years 2005-2007). Two weeks later it added 842,000 Saturn Ion compacts (2003-2007), and Chevrolet HHR SUVs and Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky sports cars (2006-2007).
Potential Government Fine
The safety agency sent a 27-page order with 107 questions to GM this week demanding pictures, memos, emails, engineering drawings and other information.
The reply from GM is due on April 3. GM has promised to cooperate. NHTSA officials say they want to find out if GM stalled the recall or withdrew important safety information from consumers.
In either case, GM is facing a $35-million fine. Under federal law, carmakers are required to inform NHTSA about safety defects within five days of discovering them.
According to documents submitted to NHTSA by GM, heavy key ring or jarring from rough roads can cause the ignition switch to move out of the run position and shut off the engine and electrical power, knocking power out of the brakes and disabling the front airbags.
This problem has been linked to 31 crashes and 13 front-seat deaths. In the case of the deaths, the airbags did not inflate. It is unclear if the ignition switch caused the crashes or if people died because the airbags failed to deploy.
It appears at this point that a government fine is inevitable for GM. However, what is $35 million to a company that made close to $4 billion last year, but mere pocket change?
Consumers who have suffered injuries or who have lost loved ones as a result of these dangerous and defective vehicles have no other recourse but to file a class-action or civil product liability lawsuit seeking compensation for damages and making GM pay for failing to present critical information to consumers.
GM has apparently announced that the CEO herself is conducting an “unvarnished” internal investigation. But in this case, where at least 13 people have died, whatever action GM is talking is too little too late.