Questions Upton Committee MUST Ask GM About Recall Delay

Fred Upton photoThe following letter was sent today to Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee:

As your committee prepares for the upcoming House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the recent GM recall, I urge you to use every opportunity to examine what, if any, influence the U.S. government’s ownership of GM has had on this troubling failure to address the dangerously flawed vehicles. In addition, we urge your committee to consider posing the following questions to panelists at your hearing:

1.     In late 2009, GM sued supplier JTEKT North America for $30 million over faulty steering columns associated with the very same vehicles recalled over the most recent ignition switch issue. Does GM intend to sue Delphi Mechatronics for the faulty ignition switch issues?

2.     In 2005, GM settled a lawsuit with Amber Marie Rose, a 16 year old killed in a Cobalt crash when the ignition switch had shut down the cars airbags during a crash. GM’s Vice Chairman of Global Product Development was asked recently if he had ever been informed of any potential defect in the car’s ignition system and he replied “never.” Given the 2005 legal settlement, which almost certainly would have required approval by GM’s executive leadership, how is it possible that senior executives of the company such as Bob Lutz could not have known about the defect?

3.     What prompted Delphi Mechatronics to change the ignition switch in late 2006? Did GM and Delphi Mechatronics ever communicate about problems with the ignition switch?

4.     Did GM ever notify Delphi Mechatronics that there was a problem or request a design change?

5.     Did Delphi Mechatronics ever notify GM that there was a problem with the ignition switch or notify GM that the equipment had been redesigned or changed?

GM’s February 13 recall of 1.6 million vehicles for faulty ignition switches that have been linked to 13 deaths and 31 crashes was prompted by civil lawsuits and media pressure, rather than NHTSA action, despite reports the agency knew about this dangerous defect.

Furthermore, the overdue recall came a long decade and many deaths after GM knew its ignition switches were defective. Similar failures brought Toyota leadership before Congress to be held accountable just a few years ago, but GM appears to have benefited from privileged treatment by the Obama administration just as the bailout gave UAW preferential treatment over other creditors in the bankruptcy.

In fact, as has been reported just this week, under the terms of its bankruptcy, GM may be free from liability for injuries arising before its 2009 takeover bankruptcy. The Wall Street Journal reported that, “As part of GM’s government-led restructuring in 2009, the auto maker washed away a bevy of product-liability lawsuits against it” (March 8, 2014). Could this be why the public is finally learning about this vehicle safety issue just two short months after the U.S. Treasury sold its final share in late December 2013?

The U.S. Treasury Department had an interest in seeing General Motors stock increase in value, and GM had an interest in being absolved in all liability prior to 2009. However, the safety of the American public does not seem to have been an interest to either entity, not even to NHTSA, which has a responsibility to protect public safety.

American taxpayers are still struggling to accept their $10 billion GM bailout loss. We hope the bailout isn’t the cause of loss of life too.