US-DETROIT-AUTO-SHOW

The public inquiry into the General Motors recall of roughly 1.6 million vehicles continues to broaden, and the US House Energy and Commerce Committee is planning a hearing to investigate GM's reaction to the problem. A date for the questioning hasn't been set yet, but it's expected to include officials from the automaker and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, according to Automotive News.

The committee is chaired by US Representative Fred Upton, a Republican from Michigan, who also oversaw a subcommittee investigation of rollovers of Ford Explorers with Firestone tires in 2000. In response, he sponsored and passed the Tread Act that required automakers to report defects to NHTSA in a timely matter. "Here we are over a decade later, faced with accidents and tragedies, and significant questions need to be answered. Did the company or regulators miss something that could have flagged these problems sooner?" said Upton in a statement on the committee's website.

According to AN, the automaker's internal investigation is led by former US attorney Anton Valukas, its general counsel, Michael Millikin and attorneys from the law firm King & Spalding. NHTSA is running a separate probe and submitted a 27-page questionnaire to GM about how it handled the recall, and how it will improve its process. The company has until April 3 to respond to the regulator.

"We are fully cooperating with NHTSA and will do so with the Committee, too. We welcome the opportunity to help both parties have a full understanding of the facts. I do not have any other details," said Alan Adler, GM's spokesperson on legal and recall topics, in an email to Autoblog.

The faulty ignition switches have been shown to turn off a vehicle inadvertently if jostled or put under heavy pressure, like if the driver had a weighty keychain. When this happens it also deactivates the airbag. There have been 13 fatalities and 31 crashes attributed to the problem. GM is facing a fine as high as $35 million from NHTSA if found that it delayed the recall, the highest ever in the industry. The company is also open to possible consumer lawsuits related to the issue.