Regulator Didn’t Act on Evidence of Defective GM Air Bags
regulators looking into General Motors Co. (GM)’s Chevrolet Cobalt noticed a surprising statistic: warranty claims over the car’s air bags were four times higher than for competing vehicles.
They also had customer complaints, crash reports and GM’s own descriptions of the fault. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration overruled an investigator in 2007 and determined there wasn’t enough of a pattern to open a formal probe, according to documents released yesterday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
While the e mails and memos add to evidence GM dragged its heels on responding to concerns over defects, they also shed new light on the government’s decision not to act on a flaw now linked to 13 deaths in accidents.
“Everything in this memo suggests they should have opened a defect investigation,” said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a Washington based watchdog group. “The numbers are off the charts.”
Congress and the Justice Department are investigating the chain of events that led GM to wait more than a decade to recall 2.59 million small cars. The ignition switch in the Cobalt, Saturn Ion and other vehicles could shut off when jarred, cutting power to the engine and deactivating air bags. Senate panel April 2 that it didn’t recommend starting a probe in 2007 because the Cobalt and Ion didn’t stand out compared to peers. Transportation Department’s inspector general, Calvin Scovel, is reviewing whether the agency acted properly.
GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra has apologized and ordered an internal investigation. Barra’s name surfaced in only one document released by the committee, a memo to her providing brief context on a news story about a previous Cobalt recall for steering issues.
Documents Show GM Slow to Respond to Safety Complaints
GM Sees $1.3 Billion Charge as Engineers Put on Leave
Video: Documents Show Denial, Concealment in GM Switch
External Link: Documents Pertaining to GM and NHTSA
While the papers don’t show why NHTSA decided against probing the claims, GM officials said they saw “no specific problem pattern,” according to a memo from Gregory Magno, chief of NHTSA’s Defects Assessment Division, who recommended the probe before being overruled.
NHTSA’s acting administrator, David Friedman, told senators the agency doesn’t have complete records to show why it overruled the recommendation.
“Frankly, it is something that is currently hamstringing our ability to fully pull together all of what happened,” he said.
No Standout What is known is that the agency studied data on the Cobalt and Ion, beyond points Magno raised, and decided the cars weren’t unusual when it came to air bag failures, Friedman said.
“They were a little bit above average, but they did not stand out,” he said.
Nathan Naylor, a spokesman for the auto safety regulator, said today he couldn’t comment beyond what Friedman said at the hearings.
NHTSA received 29 complaints about air bag failures in the Cobalt and Ion for model years 2003 2006, according to the documents released by the House panel. That included 25 crashes with injuries and four fatalities.
The rate of air bag related warranty claims for the Cobalt in 2006 was more than four times higher than for Honda Motor Co. (7267)’s Civic, Toyota Motor Corp.’s Corolla and Ford Motor Co.’s Focus, according to the documents. After the Cobalt, the next highest claims rates were with two other GM vehicles, the Saab 9 5 and the Cadillac CTS.
Front Crashes Magno perceived a pattern of air bag nondeployments in the Cobalts “that does not exist in their peers,” according to one memo. He’d earlier asked for a decision to start an investigation within two weeks, according to a Sept. 5, 2007, e mail to senior officials in the agency’s Office of Defects Investigation.
Magno, in the e mail, said the agency knew of cases in which frontal air bags didn’t deploy “in severe front crashes under circumstances where they would be expected to function and reduce injury levels.”
He also presented agency officials with so called early warning data, compiled from customer complaints and injury reports, four crash investigations into air bags that didn’t work and four GM technical service
converse uk trong> converse uk bulletins. These company communications with dealers describe repairs that should be offered to customers while stopping short of a publicized safety recall.
The Defects Assessement Division did what it’s trained to do in this case, and that’s converse uk to raise red flags, Friedman told reporters April 2.
converse uk “That’s what we tell them to do,” Friedman said. “We dig deeper into the data and the into the cases to understand if there’s sufficient information of a specific defect or of a trend that allows us to move forward.”
In July 2013, less than a year before GM’s recall, the head of NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation, Frank Borris, complained to Carmen Benavides, GM’s director of product investigations.
“The general perception is that GM is slow to communicate, slow to act, and, at times, requires additional effort of ODI that we do not feel is necessary with some of your peers,” Borris said.
Borris listed six points of contention between regulators and the company, including an attempt to handle an air bag fix for the Chevrolet Malibu as a “customer satisfaction campaign” rather than a safety recall.