According to documents reviewed by a Congressional subcommittee in regards to the faulty ignition switch in millions of small General Motors vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chose not to launch an investigation into the matter when they received early evidence of a problem, which at the time included four fatal accidents, 29 complaints and 14 field reports.
Autoblog says a senior NHTSA investigator wanted to open an investigation into the defective Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion models back in November of 2007, after the watchdog group had noticed a trend of airbag non-deployments in the vehicles. They decided not to launch an investigation, a choice the agency says was made due to a lack of data.
“The agency reviewed data from a number of sources in 2007, but the data we had at the time did not warrant a formal investigation. Recent data presented by GM provides new information and evidence directly linking the ignition switch to the airbag non-deployment,” a written statement released by the NHTSA Sunday read.
Since the recall was first announced in February many have wondered why GM and the NHTSA failed to act on the issue earlier. GM reportedly knew about the possible defect with the ignition switch as early as 2001 during pre-production of the Saturn Ion. The documents reviewed Sunday also revealed senior employees at Delphi, the supplier of the defective ignition switches, told investigators that GM had approved use of the part, even though testing of the torque parameters in the switches failed to comply with GM standards.
“Although we have had the documents for less than a week, they paint an unsettling picture,” said U.S. Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA).
The documents also noted that a desire to avoid the cost of replacing the part may have played a role in not fixing the defective switches. In March 2005, a project engineer manager for the Cobalt closed an internal examination of the switches because, “the lead time for all solutions is too long,” and “tooling cost and piece price are too high.”
GM CEO Mary Barra and NHTSA administrator David Friedman are scheduled to testify in a Hearing held by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee Tuesday morning. A Senate panel will hold its own hearings Tuesday and on Wednesday the NHTSA is expecting GM’s answers to 107 questions it submitted to the company about the timing of the recall. The U.S. Department of Justice is also investigating GM’s actions throughout the decade long delay.