Government demands answers from GM about a deadly defect

Thirteen people died in car crashes linked to a defect in General Motors vehicles -- and now, the government is demanding answers.

Chief among them: When did GM know about the defect? And what did the company do?

Car makers are required to notify the government within five days of discovering a safety defect.

CBS News was the first to obtain a service advisory that showed that GM knew about problems with ignition switches a decade before it announced a recall.

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GM announced a recall a decade after it knew about problems with ignition switches
CBS News
That recall -- of 1.6 million mostly compact cars - didn't begin until last month.

The 27-page order from the government demands names, emails, internal memos, engineering drawings and more -- everything linked to the ignition defect.

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Thirteen people have died in car crashes linked to a defect in General Motors vehicles
CBS News

There are 107 questions in all, including:

Exactly how many consumer complaints has GM received?

How many lawsuits has GM settled? And the details of each. These typically include confidentiality agreements that are kept secret from the public.

Complete Coverage: General Motors Recall

Exactly which employees were involved in investigating the problem?

And why wasn't a recall issued earlier?

The deadline for GM's response: April 3.

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GM faces a maximum $35 million fine
CBS News
"What GM has to do is restore the public trust," said Clarence Ditlow, who heads the Center for Auto Safety.

"It has to take a close, hard look at its own system for determining when there's a defect and when to do a safety recall," he said.

Last month, CBS News obtained documents showing a GM engineer first discovered the defect in 2004.

A sudden jarring or heavy key ring can switch the ignition off, cutting power and disabling airbags. A service bulletin was posted to dealers in 2005 in case customers complained, saying: "There is the potential for the driver to inadvertently turn off the ignition... the concern is more likely to occur if the driver is short and has a large and/or heavy key chain..."

But the cars kept being manufactured.

And no recall until almost 10 years later - this year.

Now, GM, which volunteered to recall the cars, faces a maximum $35 million fine from the Department of Transportation.

The company made $3.8 billion last year.

"Given the danger which the public was running, $35 million is just a parking ticket," said Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey. "We need a penalty that matches the severity of the harm which is done to families in our country when one of these accidents occurs."

The government is requiring a GM officer to sign the returned documents under oath. Yesterday GM's CEO Mary Barra said that she has launched an internal review, and said "We have much more work ahead of us."

  • Jeff Glor

    Jeff Glor was named anchor of the Sunday edition of the "CBS Evening News" in January 2012 and Special Correspondent for "CBS This Morning" in November 2011.

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