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article imageGM, U.S. regulators aware of defect 10 years before recall

By Joe Duarte     Mar 9, 2014 in Technology
Detroit - General Motors is recalling some 1.6 million vehicles over a problem that may have lead to 13 deaths, but now comes word that U.S. regulators may have been aware of problems with the compact cars early on and did nothing.
The recall is meant to address an ignition fault that could result in the key’s slipping out of the “run” position, shutting down vehicle electronics necessary for vehicle operation if the car is moving. It primarily affects Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac Pursuit/G5 compact cars built between 2003 and 2007, but also includes some other models built in that time span — Saturn Ion compact coupe and sedans, Chevrolet HHR compact hatchbacks, and Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky roadsters.
There have been 31 reported incidents of the occurrence while the cars were being driven, 13 of which resulted in fatalities because when the electronics go down, the power steering won’t work (meaning some loss of directional control), braking assist won’t work (meaning drivers will find it more difficult to bring the car to a stop) and airbags won’t deploy.
The Associated Press is reporting that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is demanding that GM turn over documents and other data to ascertain how long ago the automaker knew of the problem.
A Los Angeles Times story states that GM was aware of the problem with the ignition as early as 2004 and issued a service bulletin to its dealers in 2005, suggesting they instruct car owners to remove all key chains and other items on them, that could add weight to the key in the ignition.
A New York Times story suggests that extensive levels of company management probably prevented the issue from coming to the awareness of top level executives at the time, delaying the execution of safety action that could have prevented the catastrophic events.
However, in a counterspin, another NY Times story states that NHTSA reportedly received an average of two complaints a month about the potentially dangerous shutdowns since February 2003, but repeatedly responded that it didn’t have enough evidence to order a safety investigation.
That story also states that, as required by a 2000 U.S. law arising out of the Ford Explorer/Firestone tire rollover incidents, GM had reported 78 deaths and 1,581 injuries involving the cars now named in the recall, though it is uncertain how many of those are linked to the ignition flaw.
GM has issued a public apology about its delayed response to the problem, is attempting to fix affected cars as quickly as possible, and continues to advise drivers to remove all items from the ignition key in order to lessen the impact the added weight might have on the ignition switch.
More about Recalls, General motors, Ignition, Nhtsa
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