Feds Probe Handling of GM Ignition Switch Recall | Edmunds

Feds Probe Handling of GM Ignition Switch Recall


Just the Facts:
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating the timeliness of General Motors' recall of defective ignition switches in nearly 1.4 million vehicles in the U.S.
  • GM could face a maximum fine of $35 million if it did not recall the vehicles within five days of determining they posed an unreasonable risk to safety.
  • The recall involves the 2005-'07 Chevrolet Cobalt, 2007 Pontiac G5, 2006-'07 Chevrolet HHR and Pontiac Solstice, 2003-'07 Saturn Ion and 2007 Saturn Sky.

WASHINGTON The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating the timeliness of General Motors' recall of defective ignition switches in nearly 1.4 million vehicles in the U.S.

GM could face a maximum fine of $35 million if it did not recall the vehicles within five days of determining they posed an unreasonable risk to safety. According to federal regulations, once a manufacturer is aware of a safety problem it must, within five business days, inform the agency of its plan for a recall or face a civil fine.

The recall involves the 2005-'07 Chevrolet Cobalt, 2007 Pontiac G5, 2006-'07 Chevrolet HHR and Pontiac Solstice, 2003-'07 Saturn Ion and 2007 Saturn Sky.

NHTSA said in a statement it has "opened an investigation into the timeliness of General Motors' recall of faulty ignition switches to determine whether GM properly followed the legal processes and requirements for reporting recalls." The agency oversees vehicle recalls in the U.S.

GM announced on February 10 it is recalling the affected Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 vehicles. On Tuesday, GM said it is doubling the size of the recall to nearly 1.4 million vehicles in the U.S.

In these models, the weight of the key ring and/or road conditions or some other jarring event may cause the ignition switch to move out of the "run" position, turning off the engine, NHTSA said in its summary of the problem.

"If the key is not in the run position, the airbags may not deploy if the vehicle is involved in a crash, increasing the risk of injury," NHTSA said.

The ignition switch defect has killed 13 people and resulted in 31 crashes in which airbags failed to deploy.

On Wednesday, Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., urged NHTSA "to require auto manufacturers to provide detailed information to the agency when they first become aware of incidents involving fatalities," according to a posting on his Web site.

"GM reportedly knew about the safety problem for almost a decade," Markey wrote.
He called the "current Early Warning Reporting System too little, too late," saying "we need to overhaul the Early Warning Reporting system so that NHTSA is not looking at auto defects through a rearview mirror."

GM has hired an unnamed outside firm to conduct an independent review of the recall.

GM recently submitted a detailed chronology associated with its initial recall of the ignition switch problem to NHTSA. The chronology outlines events that happened during the time that elapsed between receiving the first field reports and issuing a recall. 

"The chronology shows that the process employed to examine this phenomenon was not as robust as it should have been," said GM North America President Alan Batey in a statement. "Today's GM is committed to doing business differently and better. We will take an unflinching look at what happened and apply lessons learned here to improve going forward."

The chronology states that in 2004, "around the time of the launch of the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt, GM learned of at least one incident in which a Cobalt lost engine power because the key moved out of the ‘run' position when the driver inadvertently contacted the key or the steering column."

The chronology was among the recall documents filed by GM with NHTSA.

Batey apologized to consumers for how the issue was handled.

On Thursday, Edmunds asked Alan Adler, a GM spokesman, for reaction to the NHTSA investigation of the timing of the GM recall. He provided the following statement:

"We deeply regret the events that led to the recall and this investigation.  As our detailed chronology indicates, we intend to fully cooperate with NHTSA and we welcome the opportunity to help the agency have a full understanding of the facts.  Today's GM is committed to learning from the past while embracing the highest standards now and in the future."

Edmunds says: The pressure is on federal safety regulators and automakers to change how incidents involving vehicle fatalities are handled, something that is of critical importance to car consumers.

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