The United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has asked General Motors to provide details about what it knew and when surrounding ignition switch failures linked to 13 deaths. The failures have resulted in a recall of 1.6 million Chevrolet, Pontiac, and Saturn vehicles.
In a 27-page order, NHTSA has requested that GM provide it with specifics on the steps it took to investigate engineering concerns and consumer complaints dating from 2004. The agency has requested the report by April 3rd.
In February, General Motors said that heavy key rings or jarring could cause ignition switches on affected cars to move out of position, thereby cutting power and deactivating air bags. The agency also stated on its website that “Falsifying or withholding information in response to this special order may also lead to criminal penalties of a fine or imprisonment of up to 15 years, or both.”
The General has stated that it is fully cooperating with the probe, welcoming “the opportunity to help the agency have a full understanding of the facts,” said Alan Adler, a GM spokesman, in an e-mailed statement.
“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,” Adler added. “We want our customers to know that today’s GM is committed to fixing this problem in a manner that earns their trust.”
General Motors CEO Mary Barra stated that she would guide senior executives in monitoring progress on the recall, adding that the automaker’s reputation may be driven by how it responds.
GM “has acted without hesitation” to address the recall in the past few weeks, reads Barra’s note from a GM employee website. “We have much more work ahead of us.”
NTHSA’s order contains 107 questions about the events leading up to the recall, including the 10-year timeline the automaker provided regulators on February 24th. The agency also requested all GM documents used to prepare the timeline, as well as details about each of the 23 crashes the automaker linked to the defect, and all depositions and testimony from lawsuits.
The agency also requested details surrounding the following items:
- Names and correspondence from any employee involved in efforts by GM employees to investigate and isolate ignition-switch failures, going back to 2004
- Specifics about the reason engineering modifications proposes in 2004 and 2005 were not implemented in production vehicles
- Information about the events following a 2007 meeting between regulators and GM, in which the two parties discussed an air bag failure after a Cobalt lost engine power
- Why GM North American President Alan Batey said that automaker’s “process employed to examine this phenomenon was not as robust as it should have been,” along with details about how the process will be changed
NHTSA spokesperson Nathan Naylor said in a statement that, “We are a data-driven organization, and we will take whatever action is appropriate based on where our findings lead us.”
Adding more complexity to the situation is a GM technical service bulletin to dealers from 2006 describing the issue; GM didn’t issue a a recall until 2014. Notably, a research team informed U.S. automotive safety regulators in 2007 of a possible link between defective ignition switches and airbags not deploying.
In a statement dated February 25th, GM stated that it was “deeply sorry”, while CEO Barra stated on March 5th that the automaker has commenced an internal investigation to provide an “unvarnished report on what happened.”
To note, the initial recall on February 13th was limited to 778,562 Chevrolet Cobalts and Pontiac G5s was expanded less than two weeks later to include more than 800,000 additional vehicles, including 2003-2007 Saturn Ion, 2006-2007 Chevrolet HHR, 2006-2007 Pontiac Solstice, and the 2006-2007 Saturn Sky. Other affected models not sold in the U.S. include the Canadian-market 2005-2006 Pontiac Pursuit and the European-market 2007 Opel GT.