GM fined for delinquent recall documents

 

General Motors is being fined $7,000 per day by federal regulators for delinquency in turning over documents related to its recall of more than a million cars that have a dangerous ignition switch flaw.

The fine is being levied by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which has also come under fire along with GM, for the ignition switch recall because the affected vehicles were made as early as 2004.

The highway safety agency said in a letter to GM's lawyers that the automaker was nearly a week late in responding to questions about its handling of the recalls.

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"On March 4, 2014, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, pursuant to a delegation of authority to the Chief Counsel of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ("NHTSA") directed a Special Order of General Motors LLC ("GM") in connection with the above listed agency investigation regarding the timelines of GM's recall of vehicles that contain a safety defect in the vehicle's ignition switch may unintentionally move out of the 'run' position," the NHTSA wrote.

"GM's response to that Special Order was due by April 3, 2014," the letter continued. "As stated in the Special Order, failure to respond fully or truthfully to the Special Order is subject to a civil penalty of up to $7,000 per day."

Lawmakers and regulators have accused GM of purposely delaying the recall of its older models, which affected 1.6 million cars, to avoid paying for repairs. The recalled vehicles are mostly models that GM no longer makes, like the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion, which were produced between 2004 and 2010.

The highway safety agency said "GM did not respond to over a third of the requests" for information that were issued by regulators.

The agency said it is responding to GM's delinquency by demanding "a civil penalty of $28,000, the statutory maximum of $7,000 a day for each day following the April 3 deadline in which GM failed to fully respond." 

"The penalty demand will continue to accrue by $7,000 for each additional day in which NHTSA does not receive a complete response," the agency said in its letter.

The fines will continue until regulators receive "a complete response by GM," which the agency said means "GM fully and substantively answers all questions and produces all responsive documents."

"If GM does not fully respond to the Special Order immediately and pay all civil penalties accrued as of the date on which it does so, NHTSA may refer this matter to the U.S. Department of Justice to commence a civil actions in federal court to compel GM to fully respond to the Special Order and for civil penalties," the agency added.

GM said in a statement provided to The Hill that it has "worked tirelessly from the start to be responsive to NHTSA’s special order and has fully cooperated with the agency to help it have a full understanding of the facts." 

"GM has produced nearly 21,000 documents totaling over 271,000 pages through a production process that spans a decade and over 5 million documents from 75 individual custodians and additional sources," the company said.

"Even NHTSA recognizes the breadth of its inquiry and has agreed, in several instances with GM, to a rolling production schedule of documents past the April 3rd deadline," the GM statement continued. "We believe that NHTSA shares our desire to provide accurate and substantive responses. We will continue to provide responses and facts as soon as they become available and hope to go about this in a constructive manner. We will do so with a goal of being accurate as well as timely."

— This report was updated with GM's statement at 11:10 a.m.