Following fresh revelations that General Motors has continued to conceal information related to its ongoing safety crisis, a leading US Senator has called the company's conduct "outrageous" and called for more hearings on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), one of the top critics of the automaker's conduct in handling an ignition-switch flaw now linked to at least 32 deaths, said Tuesday that GM's "continuing, purposeful concealment strains credulity, and stains the company's conscience – setting back efforts to reclaim GM's good name."
His comments came one day after The New York Times reported the company withheld critical information from the family of Jean Averill, a Connecticut woman killed in a single-car crash in 2003 that it determined was caused by the defective ignition switch.
General Motors had internally identified Averill as one of the 13 victims it had initially acknowledged as related to the defect. In fact, hers was the first death that involved a Saturn Ion, one of the vehicles at the center of multiple investigations spawned by the problem.
But the company reportedly kept that information hidden, even from Averill's family. The family didn't learn of the link to the problem until 11 years later – when her children were contacted by a Times reporter last week. At the same time, they learned they're running out of time to file a claim with GM's victim's compensation fund. A company-set deadline of December 31 is looming on the horizon.
"General Motors failure to inform the Averill family of its clear internal determination – that Jean's death resulted form the company's continuing use of a defective ignition switch – undercuts everything it has said about its good faith and its integrity," Blumenthal said in a written statement.
The Times' revelation came one day after new documents revealed GM placed an urgent order for 500,000 ignition switches with Delphi Automotive, its supplier, in December of last year. The order indicates they knew of a problem with the ignition switches – yet it did not initiate a recall for nearly two more months.
The order was sent one day after an internal committee discussed the problem, but decided not to recall the vehicles. A recall wasn't announced until February, despite the fact federal law requires auto companies to initiate a recall within five days of discovering a safety threat.
To date, more than 2.6-million GM models, including the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion have been recalled due to the ignition-switch flaw, which makes it easy for the ignition to slip from the "run" to "accessory" position. When that happens, power is lost to the engine, power steering and airbags.
In response to the new documents outlining the order, Blumenthal questioned the integrity of the Valukas report, a document produced by outsider investigator Anton Valukas that largely exonerated GM's upper management as the ignition-switch problem enveloped the company.
"These documents raise deeply disturbing questions about the validity of the Valukas report, as well as the timeline of GM's effort to protect its car owners," Blumethal said. "The question is why the delay and how many lives were put at risk since GM waited at least two months before issuing a recall even though it had already decided to order parts."