Non-Answers on Recall Questions Net GM Real Fines—Until It Properly Answers Them

GM CEO Mary Barra

Hey, NHTSA, do you take VISA, or a renewed sense of corporate responsibility?

Man, if we had $7000 for every time GM didn’t answer a question regarding its ignition-switch recall debacle, we’d have, uh, a lot of money. Except we can’t charge GM for its non-responses—but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sure can, and it is. According to an Automotive News report, NHTSA is slapping a $7000 fine on GM every day until it fully answers all of its 107 questions regarding the recall. The original deadline for GM’s responses was April 3, so the clock—and NHTSA’s cash register—has been ticking since then.

By our math, GM so far hasn’t complied with NHTSA’s request for information for five days, which would bring the company’s outstanding fine to $35,000. (The tally stood at $28K in NHTSA’s announcement for the daily fines, which was dated April 8, meaning the tab began April 4.) Although that pile of cash could buy more than a few used, not-crashed-because-of-faulty-ignition-switch Chevrolet Cobalts, it is merely a feather in the wind to a company of GM’s size. But the fine amount doesn’t matter—what matters is that NHTSA is sending a clear message that it’s dissatisfied with GM’s lackluster progress.

Now, this is both satisfying and amusing, at least to folks who find corporate non-answers to regulating bodies in cases of safety lapses or major product issues frustrating, and we applaud NHTSA for trying to force GM’s hand. Let’s not forget that at least 12 people have been proven to have lost their lives at the wheel of GM products with the faulty ignition switch—people want answers, including members of the U.S. House of Representatives, who apparently aren’t satisfied with GM CEO Mary Barra’s responses during a recent hearing into the matter.

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It isn’t presently clear whether GM is purposely dragging its feet responding to the safety agency’s request or if it actually can’t answer the estimated remaining two-thirds of the questions at this time. GM contends it is working as fast as it can, and that some responses will take time due to engineering resources, while NHTSA has said the automaker is failing to answer even simple questions. One such inquiry GM has yet to respond to probes whether GM changed the ignition-switch design more than once, prompting NHTSA to respond: “it is deeply troubling that two months after recalling the vehicles, GM is unwilling or unable to tell NHTSA whether the design of the switch changed at any other time.”

It will be interesting to see how long it takes GM to meet NHTSA’s demands—especially given the company’s reluctance to share more information in general until its internal investigation concludes and repairs commence on the 2.2 million affected vehicles in the U.S.

About Alexander Stoklosa