A senior investigator within the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wanted to open an investigation into defective Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion models in November 2007. The director of the agency's Defects Assessment Division had spotted a trend of airbag non-deployments in the two General Motors models – early evidence of a problem included four fatal accidents, 29 complaints and 14 field reports.

NHTSA chose not to pursue an investigation.

The revelation came Sunday when a Congressional subcommittee that's reviewed tens of thousands of documents related to GM's recall fiasco released a memo that summarized its initial findings (which you can find here – warning, PDF). "Although we have had the documents for less than a week, they paint an unsettling picture," said Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA).

Hearings held by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee are scheduled begin Tuesday morning. General Motors CEO Mary Barra and NHTSA administrator David Friedman are expected to testify.

In a written statement Sunday, a NHTSA spokesperson said, "the agency reviewed data from a number of sources in 2007, but the data we had at the time did not warrant a formal investigation. Recent data presented by GM provides new information and evidence directly linking the ignition switch to the airbag non-deployment."
Chevrolet

The House hearing is the first of several inquiries into General Motors conduct and its decade-long delay of a recall of more than 2.5 million cars saddled with a potentially deadly ignition-switch defect. Documents have revealed GM knew about the defect as early as 2001 – before cars event went on sale – but didn't act until February.

In the interim, at least 13 people have have died as a result of crashes related to the defect. One study commissioned by the Center for Auto Safety believes the number of deaths is much higher, that as many as 303 deaths could be tied to the defect, though the methodology of that study has come under fire.

A Senate panel holds its own hearings Tuesday. On Wednesday, GM is supposed to submit its response to 107 questions for NHTSA's own investigation. A Department of Justice investigation is pending.

Over the past month, Congressmen, safety advocates and industry experts have wondered why NHTSA and GM failed to connect the incidents – why an Early Warning Reporting system failed to set off alarm bells. As it turned out, it did, and no one acted. "The red flags were many, and yet those responsible failed to connect the dots," Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) tweeted Sunday.

Another portion of the memo released Sunday noted that senior employees at Delphi, the maker of the defective ignition switches, told investigators that GM had approved use of the part, even though testing of the torque in the switches fell below set parameters. It also said that a desire to keep costs down may have played a key role in not fixing the defective switches before the cars went on sale.

In March 2005, the documents show the Cobalt's project engineer manager closed an examination of the switches with no action because, "the lead time for all solutions is too long," and "tooling cost and piece price are too high."

Among the questions the House subcommittee is set to ask Barra, according to the memo is, "Why did GM approve ignition switches that did not meet its specifications for torque performance? What was GM's assessment of the implications for performance and safety?"


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  • 69 Comments
      Terry Actill
      • 9 Months Ago
      Dead bodies are just negative numbers to corporate bean counters.
      sckty999
      • 9 Months Ago
      Add "Why did they not change the part number when changes were made to it concerning the issue?" to that list. Are they embarrassingly stupid or simply trying to avoid a trail admitting there was an issue?
      scocrmch
      • 9 Months Ago
      Lets see how the teabaggers try to pin this one on Obama!
        Arizonarelax
        • 9 Months Ago
        @scocrmch
        The only common ground I see here are false truths that both the Obama Administration and GM seem to convey to the public and deaths that could have been prevented.
        Adarus
        • 9 Months Ago
        @scocrmch
        You are an idiot and a contributing factor to why this terrible administration got elected twice. This is exactly why you don't bail out a failing company.
      Andrew
      • 9 Months Ago
      Typical autoblog anti GM hate this right here prooves it "NHTSA chose not to pursue an investigation' NHTSA scrood this up they fix it not GM problem now GM should be reimbursed big time
      Pat
      • 9 Months Ago
      GM is a company, like the other big 3, that I want to see succeed! Even whey they were spuing out junk like the Aztek or during their bankruptcy, I continued to root for them. But, now, maybe it's time to go!
      Bill Burke
      • 9 Months Ago
      Unfortunately this wave of bad news for GM will likely tank sales big time. Really bad corporate decision making and now it's time to pay the piper. GM may be gone after this is over. Hope not.
        Basil Exposition
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Bill Burke
        " GM may be gone after this is over." Yea yea. People were saying the same about Toyota during the UA scandal. Yea, they took a hit, but they recovered fine and so will GM.
          CadiVetteFerrari
          • 9 Months Ago
          @Basil Exposition
          I like GM. I love their Corvette. I like their Camaro. I really like Cadillacs. I consider myself a Chevy person. But they really screwed up here. No excuse. "Old" GM is definitely responsible. I don't know if "new" GM is responsible but whether "new" GM is or is not, they are, in fact, responsible right now. They won't go away. That's absurd. But I question how much of a hit they will take, if any.
          carguy1701
          • 9 Months Ago
          @Basil Exposition
          True, but you know the anti-GM morons will use this to no end.
          CadiVetteFerrari
          • 9 Months Ago
          @Basil Exposition
          I like GM. I love their Corvette. I like their Camaro. I really like Cadillacs. I consider myself a Chevy person. But they really screwed up here. No excuse. "Old" GM is definitely responsible. I don't know if "new" GM is responsible but whether "new" GM is or is not, they are, in fact, responsible right now. They won't go away. That's absurd. But I question how much of a hit they will take, if any.
          carguy1701
          • 9 Months Ago
          @Basil Exposition
          True, but you know the anti-GM morons will use this to no end.
      carguy1701
      • 9 Months Ago
      Everybody screwed the pooch on this. FIX THE COMMENTING SYSTEM, PLEASE!
        Quest
        • 9 Months Ago
        @carguy1701
        GM is 100% at Fault. IF GM gets out of this at a cost of less than $2Billion they should consider it a slap in on the wrist. What is really unfortunate about this is the small group of poster all over the inter-webs spewing the nonsense such what you and a few others are posting, trying to deflect or minimize GM's shoddy behavior in this matter for what now amounts to 14 years and 13 'official' deaths. The attitude of defending GM in the manner evident is truly disgusting!
        Quest
        • 9 Months Ago
        @carguy1701
        GM is 100% at Fault. IF GM gets out of this at a cost of less than $2Billion they should consider it a slap in on the wrist. What is really unfortunate about this is the small group of poster all over the inter-webs spewing the nonsense such what you and a few others are posting, trying to deflect or minimize GM's shoddy behavior in this matter for what now amounts to 14 years and 13 'official' deaths. The attitude of defending GM in the manner evident is truly disgusting!
        Quest
        • 9 Months Ago
        @carguy1701
        GM is 100% at Fault. IF GM gets out of this at a cost of less than $2Billion they should consider it a slap in on the wrist. What is really unfortunate about this is the small group of poster all over the inter-webs spewing the nonsense such what you and a few others are posting, trying to deflect or minimize GM's shoddy behavior in this matter for what now amounts to 14 years and 13 'official' deaths. The attitude of defending GM in the manner evident is truly disgusting!
        Quest
        • 9 Months Ago
        @carguy1701
        GM is 100% at Fault. IF GM gets out of this at a cost of less than $2Billion they should consider it a slap in on the wrist. What is really unfortunate about this is the small group of poster all over the inter-webs spewing the nonsense such what you and a few others are posting, trying to deflect or minimize GM's shoddy behavior in this matter for what now amounts to 14 years and 13 'official' deaths. The attitude of defending GM in the manner evident is truly disgusting!
        Quest
        • 9 Months Ago
        @carguy1701
        GM is 100% at Fault. IF GM gets out of this at a cost of less than $2Billion they should consider it a slap in on the wrist. What is really unfortunate about this is the small group of poster all over the inter-webs spewing the nonsense such what you and a few others are posting, trying to deflect or minimize GM's shoddy behavior in this matter for what now amounts to 14 years and 13 'official' deaths. The attitude of defending GM in the manner evident is truly disgusting!
        Quest
        • 9 Months Ago
        @carguy1701
        GM is 100% at Fault. IF GM gets out of this at a cost of less than $2Billion they should consider it a slap in on the wrist. What is really unfortunate about this is the small group of poster all over the inter-webs spewing the nonsense such what you and a few others are posting, trying to deflect or minimize GM's shoddy behavior in this matter for what now amounts to 14 years and 13 'official' deaths. The attitude of defending GM in the manner evident is truly disgusting!
        Quest
        • 9 Months Ago
        @carguy1701
        GM is 100% at Fault. IF GM gets out of this at a cost of less than $2Billion they should consider it a slap in on the wrist. What is really unfortunate about this is the small group of poster all over the inter-webs spewing the nonsense such what you and a few others are posting, trying to deflect or minimize GM's shoddy behavior in this matter for what now amounts to 14 years and 13 'official' deaths. The attitude of defending GM in the manner evident is truly disgusting!
      Nick
      • 9 Months Ago
      Less regulation and oversight is better though, right libertarians?
        Healthy Chap
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Nick
        Because the failures of government regulation should have us ask for more of it, right?
        Healthy Chap
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Nick
        I love how people like you manage to blame regulatory failures on the market.
        ward_austinc
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Nick
        You have NHTSA, EPA, DOT, etc... And this all still happened. The market stopped buying GM product and let them fail. The state had to resurrect them. The market works. Or at least, it tries to.
        Healthy Chap
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Nick
        I love how people like you manage to blame regulatory failures on the market.
      DarkKnight67
      • 9 Months Ago
      There is a lot of "screwing of the pooch" on this one. GM should never have allowed this to go on as long as they have. However, if it was brought to the attention of NHTSA seven years ago and subsequently dismissed, that agency really dropped the ball.
        Quest
        • 9 Months Ago
        @DarkKnight67
        BS! The only screwing of the pooch was GM doing a one over on anyone that bought one of these shoddily built cars. Go back to your fanboi site and commiserate with your fellow GM saps. ;-)
          Quest
          • 9 Months Ago
          @Quest
          @arguy1701 "Wow, biased much?" ________________________________ Isn't that just rich!? Look dude put down the fanboi cool-aid and go back to your fanboi site and take your friends with you. You're a poster boy for bias ;-)
          Quest
          • 9 Months Ago
          @Quest
          @arguy1701 "Wow, biased much?" ________________________________ Isn't that just rich!? Look dude put down the fanboi cool-aid and go back to your fanboi site and take darknight with you. You're a poster boy for bias ;-)
          Quest
          • 9 Months Ago
          @Quest
          @arguy1701 "Wow, biased much?" ________________________________ Isn't that just rich!? Look dude put down the fanboi cool-aid and go back to your fanboi site and take darknight with you. You're a poster boy for bias ;-)
        Quest
        • 9 Months Ago
        @DarkKnight67
        BS! The only screwing of the pooch was GM doing a one over on anyone that bought one of these shoddily built cars.
        Quest
        • 9 Months Ago
        @DarkKnight67
        BS! The only screwing of the pooch was GM doing a one over on anyone that bought one of these shoddily built cars. Go back to your fanboi site and commiserate with your fellow GM saps. ;-)
        Quest
        • 9 Months Ago
        @DarkKnight67
        BS! The only screwing of the pooch was GM doing a one over on anyone that bought one of these shoddily built cars. Go back to your fanboi site and commiserate with your fellow GM saps. ;-)
        Quest
        • 9 Months Ago
        @DarkKnight67
        BS! The only screwing of the pooch was GM doing a one over on anyone that bought one of these shoddily built cars. Go back to your fanboi site and commiserate with your fellow GM saps. ;-)
      carguy1701
      • 9 Months Ago
      Everybody screwed the pooch on this.
      carguy1701
      • 9 Months Ago
      Everybody screwed the pooch on this. FIX THE COMMENTING SYSTEM, PLEASE!
      carguy1701
      • 9 Months Ago
      Everybody screwed the pooch on this. FIX THE COMMENTING SYSTEM, PLEASE!
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