DETROIT (Sept. 22, 2014) — General Motors Co.'s ongoing recall saga is exposing a sharp contrast in behavior between the regulated and the regulators.
After a decade delay in fixing a major safety flaw in millions of General Motors vehicles, GM executives are restructuring the company to prevent it from happening again.
GM recalled 2.6 million vehicles to replace ignition switches that can inadvertently cut power to steering, brake and airbag systems. It is compensating victims. CEO Mary Barra fired several employees. She apologized to GM customers.
GM has come clean about its mistakes and is focused on solutions. Not so at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). At a Senate subcommittee hearing last week, NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman denied mishandling the case, saying that GM had withheld information, derailing the agency's investigation.
And Mr. Friedman disputed a scathing House subcommittee report that concluded NHTSA staff had “ample information to identify a potential safety defect as early as 2007,” ignored clues, missed similarities in multiple investigations and didn't understand how updated airbag systems worked.
A hearing that was supposed to explore potential NHTSA improvements deteriorated into testy exchanges between Mr. Friedman defending his agency and senators chiding his unwillingness to accept responsibility for its failings.
Certainly, GM bears primary responsibility for making faulty switches, not recognizing the danger and not recalling vehicles for a decade. But that doesn't excuse NHTSA's own string of errors in letting it happen.
There's lots of blame to share. GM gets it. NHTSA doesn't.
NHTSA must rediscover its role as a watchdog and protector for the public. Until Mr. Friedman and staff accept responsibility for their shortcomings, NHTSA can't get started.
This editorial appeared in Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.