Federal safety regulators had grown frustrated with what they felt was the company's indifferent attitude toward safety issues.

General Motors has attempted to distance itself from a widening crisis over its botched handling of a deadly defect by dividing its company history into two distinct periods. The "old" GM existed prior to the company's 2009 bankruptcy and conducted itself one way, and the "new" GM that emerged from the bankruptcy with a renewed commitment to quality and safety.

But documents released Friday in connection with a Congressional investigation into why GM waited so long to recall defective ignition switches showed that, since the bankruptcy, federal safety regulators had grown frustrated with what they felt was the company's indifferent attitude toward safety issues.

Top officials with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and General Motors exchanged emails on July 23, 2013 in advance of a face-to-face meeting to discuss the issues. In the exchange, Frank Borris, the director of NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation, says, "the general perception is that GM is slow to communicate, slow to act, and, at times, requires additional effort of ODI that we do not feel is necessary with some of your peers."

Borris then lists six separate occasions, all of which occurred between 2011 and 2013, in which NHTSA felt General Motors had not taken timely or necessary actions regarding safety concerns. A GM spokesperson said Saturday, "We strive to provide timely and accurate information to our regulators."

The allegations of foot-dragging take on heightened importance in the context of the multiple federal investigations into General Motors' failure to swiftly recall more than 2.5 million vehicles afflicted with an ignition-switch defect that has claimed the lives of at least 13 motorists and caused at least 31 crashes in a timely fashion.

General Motors knew about the ignition-switch problem in 2001 but it didn't issue a recall for the problem until this February.

General Motors knew about the ignition-switch problem in 2001 – four years before affected cars even rolled off the assembly line – but it didn't issue a recall for the problem until this February. Federal law states that carmakers must recall products within five days once they learn of a safety defect.

Documents released Friday came from the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. The Senate Commerce Committee has also held hearings, the Department of Justice may pursue criminal charges against GM, and NHTSA is in the midst of its own investigation. In testimony before the House committee, NHTSA administrator David Friedman said GM didn't provide key information that could have alerted the agency to a vexing problem sooner.

Until today, the scope of the probes had been on delays of the ignition-switch recall. But Borris' emails suggest the delays weren't limited to that particular case, but instead raise the possibility they are a matter of routine practice.

He references six separate instances in which GM either sought to minimize the scope of a recall by only conducting a regional recall, which saves money for automakers, or by conducting a "customer satisfaction campaign" instead of a full-blown recall. The emails show NHTSA had to often press the automaker to either issue recalls and/or expand their scopes. (Complete email exchange here; and more documents released Friday here).

"There is a general perception in ODI that GM is one of, if not the worst offender of the regional recall policy," Borris wrote to GM's M. Carmen Benavides, the company's director of product investigations, safety regulations and certification.

"There is a general perception in ODI that GM is one of, if not the worst offender of the regional recall policy." – Frank Borris

In another instance, NHTSA and GM haggled first over whether certain vehicles needed to be recalled to fix a part that could prevent the airbags from working, then later disagreed on the scope of how many cars the problem affected.

"This was particularly frustrating and all started when ODI raised concern with a TSB (technical service bulletin) that appeared to involve a (fairly obvious) safety issue," Borris wrote.

After Benavides says the company looks forward to addressing the points in the face-to-face meeting, Borris replies again, and says that NHTSA also wants to discuss "difficulty in obtaining responses" in its probe of a GM dealership in Pennsylvania that was selling new cars that had been recalled without fixing the safety problems.

Benavides then forwarded the email from Borris to several top General Motors employees, including Alicia Boler-Davis, who was named GM's senior vice president for global quality and customer experience last summer.

One day later, Michael J. Robinson, a global vice president of regulatory affairs, expressed shock at the Borris email.

"This note from NHTSA, both the content and the tone, comes like a bolt out of the blue," he wrote. "... We need to address this immediately and I would like to discuss. We worked way too hard to earn a reputation as the best and we are not going to let this slide."

Pete Bigelow is an associate editor at AOL Autos. He can be reached via email at peter.bigelow@teamaol.com and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.


I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.


    • 1 Second Ago
  • 27 Comments
      KaptnKauto
      • 8 Months Ago
      -Criminal Charges -Huge Fines -Extensive compensation -GM Admitting it knew about this but hid it to get the bailout -Dan Akerson pulled into congress to swear under oath his knowledge -Firing all of the engineers involved and all of their management that was involved -Personal apology by GM to the families of the people who died -GM paying for the metal health treatment of the fathers and mothers that bought these cars for their children -100% money back for the full value of the cars to each person it was sold to -Pulling all these cars off the road on GM's dime and having the scrapped -Government Safety regulators full time working at GM and paid by GM and report to congress -A tear down of GM's business practices and a severing of Cadillac and Corvette -Forcing "New GM" to change their official Business name due to hiding data that would have prevented a bailout -Forcing a disclaimer on each and every GM commercial pointing out the names of all the people GM murdered -GM paying back all the profits it made off of these cars to it's share holders and to the government for the bailout This list above is still incomplete, it will never be complete or enough for the people who died to have justice. Please add to the list. GM, enough is enough. If GM buys their way out of this and if the DOJ allows them to continue then all Justice is lost forever. Boycott GM products to support Justice and the American way.
      Spies1
      • 8 Months Ago
      Will be interesting. The Obama administration when after Toyota with a vengeance. Even hired a suspect Professor to "prove" the Toyotas had unintended acceleration, and ABC news of course jumped all over it. In Typical ABC fashion, they even "doctored" the video they showed in the report. It was shameless and very political while they were bailing out GM.
        Quest
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Spies1
        The truth always comes out - always! What goes around comes around; the longer it takes to come back the worse it's going to be ;-) Welcome to your nightmare GM and fanbois [insert evil laugh] hope you like it - you own, it now live it!
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Spies1
        [blocked]
      Eggmania
      • 8 Months Ago
      dismantle the company, sell it off, send the US taxpayer a check. this company is irrevocably broken. the execs should be charged with manslaughter for every innocent that died. i cant see how anyone can give a dime to this company that has no regard for human life.
        comintheusa
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Eggmania
        Without GM there would be one less company for Asian automakers to emulate and copy. Ain't gonna happen.
      bethany.omalley
      • 8 Months Ago
      So let me get this straight... The one thing that stuck in my head is Old GM and New GM? 1. So if I go out and cause 13 deaths from my (old) company 2. File bankruptcy 3. Emerge from bankruptcy 4. Rename my company Mew) (Company name here) 5. Fight the government to say I was incompetent and shouldn't be liable because that was my old company. I will not be liable? That's BS or if I am wrong in what I am saying cane someone please say "In layman's terms...:
        brandon
        • 8 Months Ago
        @bethany.omalley
        What's funny is they keep claiming to be a different company, but they still *KNEW ABOUT THE FLAW FROM 2009 UNTIL NOW* and chose to do nothing about it. Yeah, completely different company. They need to die so a better, more honest company can take their place. If Toyota owed 1 billion for a "flaw" that couldn't be replicated, and fixed, then GM owes about 500 billion, give or take a billion, for outright neglect. The sooner this company dies the better.
          brandon
          • 8 Months Ago
          @brandon
          This I actually agree with. I'm sure there are quite a few people that work at GM who aren't useless morons, and gave everything they could to the company. However, by continuing the management to continue, it just exacerbates an already bad problem. This is why they should have never been given a dime. I'm sure one of the hedge funds could have turned them around into a decent company that doesn't kill people for sport.
      Mbukukanyau
      • 8 Months Ago
      So NHTSA is to blame for all this mess after all. Are they not the ones supposed to hold these companies to account? Who are they going to get caught up on with pants down next? There was Firestone Ford Explorer Fiasco, The Toyota death trap, now this and somehow NHTSA is never to blame?
        Quest
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Mbukukanyau
        No, NHTSA is not to blame for this mess. GM owns this 100%! FFS, they tried to hide it.
        Quest
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Mbukukanyau
        "So NHTSA is to blame for all this mess after all" _________________________ Incredulous! No they're not to blame, this is GM's doing and no one else! I read stuff like this I see the X-files (miss that show) tag line: I want to believe. Well guess what, GM is facing a criminal investigation and multi-Billion dollar fines.
      Neez
      • 8 Months Ago
      Wow, the pot calling the kettle black????????? Why did it take the NHTSA so many years to get to the problem. They are both to blame here. The NHTSA was too slow to investigate, and GM trying to be cheapskates. Now we know why the NHTSA was slow to respond, they are severely understaffed. That's a fixable problem.
      Quest
      • 8 Months Ago
      That's it Autoblog, keep 'em coming - the truth needs to be told - going to push the GM fanbois right over the edge to a psychotic break. Most aren't to stable anyhow... keep 'em coming. Hey, fanbois: the truth shall set you free ;-) TFF ;-))) Down vote that haha
      Mr Sled
      • 8 Months Ago
      GM has been and always will be shady behind the scenes.
        mylz
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Mr Sled
        A lot of the companies in the industry run like this sadly... One example is Honda who requires everyone they do business with to ISO certified and they are not. I am sure I am not the only one on here who works in the auto industry but large companies are like this. Some are better at hiding it over others. This is why I wanted Chapter 11 so all of the extra baggage would go away. Besides the unions would probably have fallen and the Detroit 3 would be in way better shape if they all fired for Chapter 11 instead of "restructuring"
          • 8 Months Ago
          @mylz
          [blocked]
      mycommentemail
      • 8 Months Ago
      GM needs to be brought to task over this issue. If it turns out that they knew about this situation and did nothing (and that really looks like what happened) then they are going to have to pay and pay deeply. That scheisse can not be allowed to stand. I am glad the NHTSA is starting to take a stand here. But the bit that really makes me laugh is all of the so called libertarians on this site gleefully calling for the government to get involved. I especially dig how they all suddenly are using (and giving credence to) the NHTSA reports. A government agency suddenly happens to be doing something that supports your political predisposition? Awesome! Then it is suddenly a good thing! Ha!
      Chsutera
      • 8 Months Ago
      In other news water is wet.
      Stacy Pentman
      • 8 Months Ago
      GM builds deathtraps and figures your life is worth less than the 97 cents to fix per car. They never do the right thing!
      r_r
      • 8 Months Ago
      Note to self: Don't buy GM vehicles for the next 2 decades.
    • Load More Comments