Documents Show Regulator First Proposed GM Probe in 2007

Posted at 4:28 AM, Mar 31, 2014
and last updated 2014-03-31 04:28:46-04

NEW YORK (March 31, 2014 – CNNMoney) — A federal regulator considered opening an investigation as early as 2007 into apparently faulty General Motors cars that weren’t recalled until earlier this year.

That’s according to investigators for a House committee probing why the recall didn’t happen sooner.

An official with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration urged his colleagues to open the investigation after noticing “a pattern of reported (airbag) non-deployments” involving Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions.

Those two models and four others comprise a recall that now totals 2.2 million vehicles in the U.S. The vehicles include the Chevrolet Cobalt and HHR, Pontiac G5 and Solstice and the Saturn Ion and Sky. GM said model years 2003 through 2007 were delivered with the faulty ignition switches, and model years 2008 through 2011 could have had faulty parts installed as replacements.

The vehicles’ ignition switches can be bumped into the “Off” or “Accessory” position while the vehicle is running, disabling the power steering, power braking and airbags.

The issue has been tied to 13 deaths.

When was GM aware? General Motors has conceded some engineers first noticed the issue as early as 2004.

The House report says GM knew the ignition switch was sub-standard even earlier. Officials at Delphi, which supplied the part, told investigators “that GM approved the (part) even though sample testing of the ignition switch torque was below the original specifications set by GM.”

In addition to the proposed investigation in 2007, regulators considered a probe in 2010. Again, they “determined the data did not show a trend,” according to the report.

The House committee cautioned the timeline was “preliminary and incomplete” because it expects to receive additional documents. It said it has so far “received and reviewed over 200,000 pages of documents from GM and approximately 6,000 pages from NHTSA” and held meetings with officials from the government, General Motors and GM suppliers.

GM CEO Mary Barra and NHTSA acting administrator David Friedman will testify before the House panel on Tuesday and a Senate committee on Wednesday.

NHTSA did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Sunday.

Although it first announced the recall in February, GM said parts to repair the vehicles will not be available until April. It told customers their vehicles are safe to drive if they remove all objects except the vehicle’s key from the keychain.