The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may have known as early as 2007 about a faulty ignition problem in over 1 million General Motors cars.
That’s according to a former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Joan Claybrook, who has asked for an agency probe as it investigates GM. The car king may have known about the malfunction since 2004 but didn’t order a recall until last month.
The recall includes various versions of the Chevrolet Cobalt and HHR, the Pontiac G5 and Solstice and the Saturn Ion and Sky.
All models were suspected of a potentially deadly fault in which the car’s engine, electronics and air bags sometimes inadvertently switches off when the key jiggles.
Questions are now being raised over why the recall wasn’t issued sooner. In 2005, the NHTSA conducted three special crash investigations into why GM’s new air bags weren’t deploying, so suspicions should have been spiked. There were also at least six complaints logged in the NHTSA database about the problem from as far back as 2007. That year, the NHTSA and GM met to discuss a crash involving an involuntary engine switch-off.
GM says 31 crashes and 13 deaths are connected to the malfunction, including one involving 15-year-old Amy Rademaker of Woodville, Wis.
“These were our children! And [GM] just acted like they don’t matter! They may not have mattered to GM, but they mattered to us,” said Rademaker’s mother, Marhie Beskau.
Mother of car crash victim
General Motors is conducting an internal investigation now. The company’s new CEO, Mary Barra, announced last week that she will personally direct the recall. It’s her first major test as leader of the company, which went through bankruptcy restructuring in 2009.
In a statement published Wednesday, GM said, “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. We want our customers to know that today’s GM is committed to fixing this problem in a manner that earns their trust.”
The NHTSA is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Its mission includes investigating safety defects in motor vehicles.
In 2013, the NHTSA says, automakers issued 632 recalls involving 22 million vehicles. Seven million of those vehicles were recalled because the agency initiated an investigation. More than 15 million were because the automakers reported problems.
In the case of this GM recall, the question is why the government didn’t step in earlier, given that the agency first investigated the problem back in 2007.
The NHTSA probe of GM is expected to continue for six months. If it finds GM knew of the defect and did not report it within the first five days, the company could face a fine of $35 million.
What went wrong with the GM recall?
Did the NHTSA know about the problem?
What happens now?
We asked a panel of experts for the Inside Story.
This panel was assembled for the broadcast of “Inside Story.”
For future hard-hitting conversations, find Al Jazeera America on your TV.