US panel to probe slow GM response to fault in vehicles

Written by New York Times | Washington | Updated: Mar 12 2014, 08:45am hrs
A US House committee has started an investigation into the response by General Motors and federal safety regulators to complaints about faulty ignition switches that have been linked to 13 deaths, officials said on Monday.

Last month, General Motors said it would recall more than 1.6 million cars because of a defective ignition switch that, if jostled or weighed down by a heavy key ring, could turn off the cars engine and electrical system, disabling the air bags.

We are fully cooperating with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and will do so with the committee too, said Greg Martin, a GM spokesman.

General Motors has said that it was first alerted to the problem in 2004, and despite twice considering fixes, declined to do so. The safety agency has received more than 260 complaints over the last 11 years about cars shutting off while being driven, according to a New York Times analysis, but never started a broader investigation. The agency repeatedly said that there was insufficient evidence to warrant one.

Mary Barra, GMs chief executive, ordered an unvarnished report last week on why the company did not recall the 1.6 million cars until February, despite knowing for about a decade about the faulty switches.

The automaker is also under investigation by federal regulators over why it did not act more quickly to recall the cars, and is subject to potential fines if it is found to have violated government rules for safety recalls.

The internal investigation ordered by Barra has no set timetable. But the company has an April 3 deadline to answer 107 detailed questions about how it mishandled the switch problems and what individual employees were responsible for not taking action on what G.M. now admits was a deadly safety defect.