GM to Face Daily Fines Over Late Response to Regulators’ Questions

(Detroit Free Press/MCT) —

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is fining General Motors Co. $7,000 per day until it responds to all questions the agency submitted to it last month regarding an ignition-switch defect.

NHTSA said Tuesday it would levy the fine after the company responded to only 65 percent of the regulator’s 107 questions with more than 200,000 pages of documents. GM already owes $28,000 because the full response was due April 3.

The agency also threatened to ask the U.S. Justice Department to pursue action against GM in federal court if it doesn’t “fully and substantively” respond.

“General Motors has worked tirelessly from the start to be responsive to NHTSA’s special order and has fully cooperated with the agency to help it have a full understanding of the facts,” the company said in a statement. “Even NHTSA recognizes the breadth of its inquiry and has agreed, in several instances with GM, to a rolling production schedule of documents past the April 3 deadline.

“We believe that NHTSA shares our desire to provide accurate and substantive responses.”

In congressional testimony last week, GM CEO Mary Barra said she wants to await the results of an internal investigation by outside attorney Anton Valukas before drawing conclusions regarding why the recall didn’t happen sooner.

“Mr. Valukas’ investigation is irrelevant to GM’s legal obligation to timely respond … and fully cooperate with NHTSA,” NHTSA chief counsel Kevin Vincent said in a letter to GM.

The agency said GM also cannot blame complex “technical engineering challenges” for its delay.

“These are basic requests concerning information that is surely readily available to GM at this time,” Vincent said. “Moreover, it is deeply troubling that two months after recalling the vehicles, GM is unwilling or unable to tell NHTSA whether the design of the switch changed at any other time.”

GM has recalled more than 2.5 million small cars after acknowledging a defect could cause the ignition switch to flip into accessory mode inadvertently, causing drivers to lose power steering, air bags and other electrical features.

The defect is blamed on at least 31 crashes and 13 deaths, and it has spawned a slew of lawsuits and government investigations.

NHTSA is facing its own investigation over its failure to order a recall, but acting administrator David Friedman partially blamed GM for not providing enough information to help the agency identify the issue.

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