Exclusive: U.S. safety chief raps GM's 'flawed' culture on recalls

Mon Sep 15, 2014 7:07pm EDT
 
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By Marilyn W. Thompson and Paul Lienert

(Reuters) - The top U.S. auto safety regulator harshly criticized General Motors Co for not promptly reporting and recalling cars now linked to at least 19 deaths and said he has been meeting with top global automakers to develop a "new normal" for safety recalls.

In his most pointed comments to date about GM's lapses, David Friedman, acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the automaker put its own reputation ahead of the safety of its customers.

"GM very clearly made some incredibly poor decisions when it came to their culture," Friedman said in an interview Monday. "They were more worried about us (NHTSA) getting information about problems than they were about actually fixing problems."

Earlier on Monday, the chief of GM's victim settlement fund raised the number of deaths from accidents caused by the automaker's defective ignition switches to 19, up from 13.

Friedman's comments come ahead of his appearance on Tuesday before a Senate panel in which he will likely be grilled about his own agency's failure to connect the dots on years of consumer complaints and accident data about GM cars with a deadly ignition switch flaw.

GM earlier this year recalled 2.6 million vehicles because of the risk the switches could unexpectedly turn off engines during operation and disable airbags.

Tuesday's hearing, chaired by Senator Claire McCaskill, is focusing on whether NHTSA is effectively implementing and enforcing highway and vehicle safety laws, and whether Congress should make additional reforms in the wake of GM recalls, said a staffer for the consumer protection subcommittee.

McCaskill has introduced legislation to increase NHTSA’s authority to fine carmakers for safety violations.   Continued...

 
Acting National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) administrator David Friedman explains that General Motors will agree to a record fine of $35 million in civil penalties as a result of the automaker's failure to report a safety defect in one of its automobiles, at the Department of Transportation in Washington, May 16, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing