NHTSA is probing why GM waited 10 years to issue recall

Article by Eugene Conan, on February 28, 2014

The United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating why it took General Motors Co. almost a decade to recall 1.6 million cars over a faulty ignition switch linked to 13 deaths from crashes. The probe could lead the agency to fine GM up to $35 million if it determines that the carmaker failed to pursue a recall when it knew the cars were defective.

GM said it was "deeply sorry," as the number of vehicles being recalled has gone up to 1.6 million globally and the number of models from two to seven.  The recall covers six models in the United States: 2005-2007 Chevrolet Cobalt, 2007 Pontiac G5, 2003-2007 Saturn Ion, 2006-2007 Chevrolet HHR, 2006-2007 Pontiac Solstice and 2007 Saturn Sky. The other model is the 2005-06 Pontiac Pursuit sold only in Canada. GM's European unit, Opel, is assessing whether the Opel GT roadster is affected by the recall, German media reported. The Opel GT roadster shares a platform and components with the Saturn Sky.

"It is a major event for General Motors to apologize," said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety. "NHTSA will still want its penalty. They'll want to send a message to the other automakers to toe the line better." GM, just like other carmakers, has a legal obligation to act on and report safety-related defects.

NHTSA can impose up top $35 million in fines to hold carmakers more accountable after Toyota Motor Corp. recalled a large number of vehicles in 2010 due to sudden and unintended acceleration problems. Toyota and Ford Motor Co. have paid the largest fines of over $17 million for delaying recalls. According to GM, key rings too heavy or jarring can lead to ignition switches to shifting out of the run position, causing the engines to shut off and a crash-sensing algorithm to misfire deactivating airbags. [source: Bloomberg]

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