A House Subcommittee Joins the GM-NHTSA Recall Fray

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jpowers65/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jpowers65/

General Motors (NYSE:GM) is investigating its vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating GM, and now an Energy and Commerce House subcommittee will be investigating both the automaker and the NHTSA, according to a report by the New York Times. It all has to do with the same recall that has the automotive world all abuzz of late; GM’s sizable 1.6 million vehicle effort related to the ignition cylinders that can cause the cars to shut down unexpectedly.

While its unusual for Washington to get so involved in matters between the automaker and the regulatory agency, it’s believed that 13 people have died as a result of the defect, and GM has known about the issue for a decade. Further, there have been whispers that the NHTSA didn’t do enough to initiate the recall earlier, as was reported on Monday.

The House subcommittee will be holding hearings, likely to grill GM and the NHTSA. A date for the hearings has not yet been confirmed, a spokesperson told the Times. The recall was initiated in January, and was expanded in February to nearly double the 778,000 initial vehicles encompassed. In addition to the House and NHTSA investigations, GM is conducting its own internal review of the situation.

“We are fully cooperating with the NHTSA, and will do so with the committee too,” GM spokesperson Greg Martin told the Times. The subcommittee is being headed by Fred Upton, a Republican from Michigan, who also oversaw the committee that probed the Ford Explorer and Firestone Tires debacle 14 years ago. 

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Upton is most concerned with how the defect trend managed to go undetected, despite more oversight and regulations governing the protocol for handling safety recalls. “Here we are over a decade later, faced with accidents and tragedies, and significant questions need to be answered,” the Times quoted Upton as saying. “Did the company or regulators miss something that could have flagged these problems sooner?”

The problems were first discovered in 2004 on 2005 model year vehicles. However, no actions were taken until earlier this year, despite over 260 complaints of specific vehicles stalling out unexpectedly. Despite this, the agency “uses a number of tools and techniques to gather and analyze data and look for trends that warrant a vehicle safety investigation and possibly a recall,” it said in a statement on Monday, also pointing out that the 260 complaints amounts to about .018 percent of the vehicles under recall.

GM is expected to release an updated chronological order of events that led up to the recall this week, and faces 107 questions being posed to it by the NHTSA. However, it seems like the NHTSA will have some questions to answer itself during the upcoming hearings.

The recall currently covers model year 2005-2007 Chevrolet Cobalts; the 2007 Pontiac G5; 2003-2007 Saturn Ions; 2006-2007 Chevrolet HHRs; 2006-2007 Pontiac Solstices; and the 2007 Saturn Sky.

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