Report: NHTSA overruled recommendation to probe GM in 2007

Article by Andrew Christian, on April 14, 2014

A review group at the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2007 overruled an investigator and determined that a probe will not be launched due a lack of a pattern over faulty ignition switches, according to documents recently released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

NHTSA back then found out that warranty claims over the Chevrolet Cobalt’s air bags were around four times higher than for rival units. The regulator also found out that they had customer complaints, crash reports and GM’s descriptions of the fault.

E-mails and memos like these do not only supported claims that GM delayed its response over defects, they also provide reasons why the government decided decision not to act on the defect.

Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, remarked that everything in the memo suggests that NHTSA should have opened a defect investigation as the numbers are off the charts. The US Congress and the Justice Department are probing the chain of events that steered the carmaker to wait over a decade before recalling 2.59 million small cars.

NHTSA’s acting administrator, David Friedman, told a US Senate panel on April 2 that the agency didn’t recommend a probe in 2007 since the Cobalt and Ion didn’t stand out compared to rival vehicles. Calvin Scovel, inspector general of the Transportation Department, is reviewing whether NHTSA acted properly over the matter.

GM chief executive Mary Barra has apologized and ordered an internal probe into the issue. Her name appeared in only one document released by the committee -- a memo to her containing brief context on a news story over a previous Cobalt recall for steering issues.

According to a memo from Gregory Magno, chief of the agency’s Defects Assessment Division, while the papers didn’t indicate the reasons why NHTSA decided against a probe, GM officials said they saw “no specific problem pattern.” Friedman told senators the NHTSA doesn’t have complete records to show why it overruled the recommendation.

Topics: nhtsa, gm

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