House Panel to Investigate GM Recall of Part Linked to Fatal Crashes

WASHINGTON (Los Angeles Times/MCT) -

A House committee has launched an investigation into how General Motors Co. and federal regulators handled the recall of vehicles with a malfunctioning ignition switch that led to at least 13 traffic deaths.

As part of the probe, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing in the coming weeks to determine if there was a delay in GM’s recall of 1.6 million vehicles with the faulty part, Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., the panel’s chairman, said Monday night.

The committee also will look into the response of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the face of consumer complaints.

Agency documents show GM knew of the ignition-switch defect as far back as 2004 but didn’t issue the recall until last month.

“Did the company or regulators miss something that could have flagged these problems sooner?” Upton said.

“If the answer is yes, we must learn how and why this happened, and then determine whether this system of reporting and analyzing complaints that Congress created to save lives is being implemented and working as the law intended,” he said.

Upton sponsored legislation, enacted in 2000, designed to get automakers and regulators to move more quickly to recall vehicles and parts with safety defects.

The Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act, known as the TREAD Act, came in response to committee hearings into Firestone tire failures on Ford Explorers.

Auto-safety experts have criticized GM and the NHTSA for not acting more quickly to deal with the ignition-switch problem.

The NHTSA is investigating GM’s handling of the issue. The automaker could be fined as much as $35 million.

Last week, GM CEO Mary Barra said the company will conduct a thorough review of whether it delayed a recall.