Edmunds / General Motors

Congress Set To Grill GM, NHTSB On Why Recall Took 10 Years

Congressional documents show the NHTSB twice declined to investigate GM's faulty ignition switches, and GM denied a plan to fix them in 2005.

By Steven Sparkman | March 30, 2014

It looks like some tough questions are in store for the heads of General Motors and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Both are set to testify to congressional panels this week and try to explain why it took a decade to address the ignition switch problem at the heart of GM's massive recall.

Documents filed by the company in February show it first caught wind of the ignition switch issue in at least 2004, maybe as far back as 2001, and yet nothing was done about it. (Via National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)

BRIAN JOHNSON: "If you look through GM's timelines, it really seems to be, if you take their word, a case of bureaucratic​ bumbling and not really connecting the dots." (Via Bloomberg)

But another timeline released by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce shows federal investigators dropped the ball, too.

According to Sunday's document, NHTSA investigators proposed looking into certain GM models in 2007, noting a pattern of crashes where the air bag didn't deploy, but decided not to pursue the investigation. They did the same thing in 2010, saying the data didn't show a trend. It also shows GM rejected a plan to fix the ignition switches in 2005, saying it wasn't cost effective. (Via House Committee on Energy and Commerce)

It's not clear if GM had figured out the ignition switch problem and the air bag problem were related at that point. If the faulty switches were bumped into the accessory position, either from keychains, the driver's knee or a collision, it would cut power to steering, brakes and, yes, the air bags.

GM's new CEO Mary Barra has become the public face of the company's damage control efforts, appearing in a video series addressing customer questions. She's scheduled to speak to the House panel on Tuesday and a Senate committee on Wednesday.

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