By Nick Bunkley, Crain News Service
WASHINGTON (March 6, 2014) — Federal safety regulators sent a 27-page letter to General Motors Co. on March 5 requesting detailed information and documents related to its investigation of whether the auto maker waited too long before recalling 1.6 million vehicles last month.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave GM until April 3 to answer 107 questions about the recall — many of which could require hundreds of pages in response. The recall covers 2005-07 Chevrolet Cobalts, 2003-07 Saturn Ions and five other nameplates.
The ignition switches could allow a driver to easily cut off power to the engine while driving and prevent the airbags from deploying in a crash. The problem is linked to 13 driver and front-passenger deaths from 2005 through 2009. GM has acknowledged that its engineers first experienced issues with the ignition switches in 2004.
“We are a data-driven organization, and we will take whatever action is appropriate based on where our findings lead us,” NHTSA said in a statement posted on its website March 5.
GM, in an emailed statement, said the auto maker is cooperating with NHTSA on the matter.
“In addition to getting NHTSA the information they need, we are doing what we can now to ensure our customers' safety and peace of mind,” GM said in the statement. “We want our customers to know that today's GM is committed to fixing this problem in a manner that earns their trust.”
Among NHTSA's requests:
• A detailed explanation of how GM's examination process “was not as robust as it should have been,” as GM's North American president, Alan Batey, stated as part of an apology to the public, and how GM plans to improve such processes.
• Information showing why a redesign to the cars' ignition key was approved in 2005 but later canceled without being implemented.
• Data on each complaint, including the date on which GM received each report.
• Details about all lawsuits related to the ignition problem.
• An explanation of why GM engineers were unable to determine until 2013 that the ignition switch supplier, Delphi Mechatronics, had changed the part's design in 2006.
In addition to the NHTSA investigation, GM has hired an outside law firm to conduct what CEO Mary Barra on March 4 said would be “an unvarnished report on what happened.”
GM is moving to learn more internally about its handling of the recall of ignition switches, including questioning employees involved in the process from the start, Reuters reported, citing two people familiar with the situation.
A team of attorneys investigating the recall interviewed employees on March 5, trying to learn exactly how the company handled the issue when it was first discovered in 2004, said the people, who asked not to be identified, Reuters said.
This report appeared on autonews.com, the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.