A House committee on Tuesday gave General Motors and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration a March 25 deadline to provide details about its recall of 1.6 million vehicles equipped with faulty ignition switches, as scrutiny of the automaker’s actions grows.
"There are several questions surrounding this latest recall and right now we are just looking for answers to determine what the company and NHTSA knew about these problems, when they knew it, and what they did about it," wrote House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton in letters to GM CEO Mary Barra and NHTSA Acting Administrator David Friedman.
Rep. Henry Waxman, the senior Democrat on the committee, said that the panel will examine whether GM "knowingly allowed faulty and dangerous cars to remain on the road."
The House committee and the Senate Commerce Committee plan to hold hearings into why it took GM a decade to recall the vehicles ─ a problem now linked to 31 crashes and 13 deaths.
“Here we are … faced with accidents and tragedies, and significant questions need to be answered.”
News of the hearings followed word that GM has hired two major law firms to conduct its own internal probe of the recall delay.
Critics contend NHTSA failed to press GM to respond as the number of complaints involving the switch problem escalated over the years to a current total of 260.
“Here we are … faced with accidents and tragedies, and significant questions need to be answered,” said Upton, a Michigan Republican.
The long delay in responding to the ignition switch problem has perplexed those who had expected such problems to be addressed by the so-called TREAD Act passed in 2000. Short for the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act, it was enacted in the wake of problems involving the Ford Explorer and Bridgestone tires that were linked to 270 deaths.
Among other things, NHTSA now has the ability to levy larger fines ─ as much as $35 million ─ against a maker that fails to respond to a known safety defect within a set time period. It has taken such action against a number of automakers in recent years, including BMW, Ford and Toyota.
Such fines could be only one of the many financial headaches for GM and its new CEO related to the recall. The maker has already been the target of a number of lawsuits filed related to crashes allegedly caused by the defective switches.
Company officials have suggested that the delay in responding to the ignition switch problem was emblematic of the problems GM had prior to its 2009 bankruptcy. Ironically, that bankruptcy might shield the maker from some of the costs it would otherwise face. After emerging from Chapter 11, the maker left many of its debts and liabilities with the “old” GM. Lawsuits related to those who were injured or killed prior to July 2009 would have to sue the old entity in bankruptcy court.
-Reuters contributed to this report.
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