DETROIT – U.S. safety regulators are demanding that General Motors turn over reams of documents and other data showing what the company knew when about a dangerous ignition problem that has been linked to 13 car-crash deaths.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating how GM handled the problem, which triggered the global recall of 1.6 million older-model compact cars. GM has acknowledged it knew of the ignition troubles a decade ago but didn’t recall the cars until last month.
In a 27-page order sent to GM Tuesday, NHTSA demanded pictures, memos, electronic communications, engineering drawings and other data to answer 107 questions. The reply, which must be signed under oath by a company officer, is due on April 3. GM spokesman Alan Adler said Wednesday that the company is cooperating.
NHTSA wants the documents to determine if GM delayed its response or withheld evidence. In either case, it could fine GM up to $35 million. Automakers are required to inform NHTSA of safety defects within five days of discovering them. Such a fine would be a record for NHTSA, but essentially is pocket change for GM, which made $3.8 billion last year.
Included in the order is a series of questions about when GM discovered the ignition problem in 2004 and the identity of employees involved in finding and replicating it. The order asks what fixes GM considered “including the lead time required, costs and effectiveness of each of the solutions.”
On Feb. 13, GM announced the recall of more than 780,000 Chevrolet Cobalts and Pontiac G5s (model years 2005-2007). Two weeks later it added 842,000 Saturn Ion compacts (2003-2007), and Chevrolet HHR SUVs and Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky sports cars (2006-2007).