U.S. transportation chief pledges hard look at GM recall

Thu Mar 13, 2014 3:39pm EDT
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By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on Thursday promised an "aggressive investigation" into whether General Motors was slow to report to the federal government problems with ignition switches in its autos, which have led to 12 deaths.

"The questions we are asking are whether there was a timeliness issue with GM's bringing to our attention the issues regarding this ignition switch," Foxx told a Senate panel.

"Had we known there was an issue, that might have changed the outcome of those initial crash investigations" by the government, Foxx said.

GM is recalling 1.6 million of its vehicles following problems with ignition switches that unexpectedly turn off during operation, sometimes at high speeds.

The problem with older model cars results in engines shutting down and other electrical equipment, including air bags, not functioning.

Foxx said if there are delays in industry reporting problems to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Transportation Department will respond in a "very, very tough" manner.

NHTSA's probe is one of many investigations into how GM handled reports of ignition switch problems that first came to light at least 10 years ago. The U.S. attorney in Manhattan has opened a criminal probe, and House and Senate committees have pledged to hold hearings about GM and NHTSA's behavior.

GM is also facing pressure from safety advocates. On Wednesday, two U.S. consumer watchdog groups called on GM to establish a $1 billion fund to compensate victims of the company's faulty ignition switches.   Continued...

Flags wave behind a General Motors Corp sign in downtown in Detroit May 28, 2009. REUTERS/Mark Blinch