General Motors again came under fire this week for its handling of its far-reaching ignition-switch recall.
GM has recalled an estimated 2.6 million vehicles for the ignition switches, and it's believed at least 32 deaths have resulted from the crashes.
Newly released emails indicated GM had ordered 500,000 replacement ignition switches nearly two months before it notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the dangers posed by the cars. An urgent order was placed in December 2013 with parts supplier Delphi Automotive, though the recall wasn't announced until February 2014.
"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," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a statement.
GM said it has revamped its safety processes, compressing the time required to take action, and a vice president of global safety, Jeff Boyer, was appointed in April. The company says these moves allow information about safety issues to reach senior executives sooner.
"These emails are further confirmation that our system needed reform, and we have done so," GM spokesman Alan Adler told Autoblog earlier this week. "We have reorganized our entire safety investigation and decision process and have more investigators, move issues more quickly and make decisions with better data."
The ignition-switch controversy has grown throughout the year as more details emerge, the recall was expanded and more victims were identified. GM has recalled an estimated 2.6 million vehicles for the ignition switches, and it's believed at least 32 deaths have resulted from the crashes. NHTSA hit GM with the maximum $35-million civil penalty in May for failing to report the defects in a timely manner.
Adler said 55.5 percent of the recalled vehicles that are still in service have been fixed.
Meanwhile, GM CEO Mary Barra – whom Blumenthal wants recalled to testify on Capitol Hill to explain the company's actions – withdrew from an award ceremony scheduled for next week after protests from family members of motorists killed in cars with GM's defective ignition switches.
General Motors also has drawn criticism for failing to notify the family of one of the early victims of the safety crisis. Connecticut motorist Jean Averill crashed a Saturn Ion in 2003 as a result of a malfunctioning ignition switch, though the reasons for the crash were not disclosed to her family. All of the victims have now been notified, GM said.
Jason Vines, the top spokesman at Ford during the Explorer-Firestone rollover crisis in 2000, said Monday that the GM situation could end up being worse, even though an estimated 271 we killed as a result of the Explorer crashes.
"I think someone is going to go to jail for this," Vines said. "I think this is going to cost them billions."
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