Documents show regulator first proposed GM probe in 2007

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — A federal regulator considered opening an investigation as early as 2007 into apparently faulty General Motors cars that weren’t recalled until earlier this year.

That’s according to investigators for a House committee probing why the recall didn’t happen sooner.

An official with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration urged his colleagues to open the investigation after noticing “a pattern of reported (airbag) non-deployments” involving Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions.

Those two models and four others comprise a recall that now totals 2.2 million vehicles in the U.S. The vehicles include the Chevrolet Cobalt and HHR, Pontiac G5 and Solstice and the Saturn Ion and Sky. GM said model years 2003 through 2007 were delivered with the faulty ignition switches, and model years 2008 through 2011 could have had faulty parts installed as replacements.

General Motors has conceded some engineers first noticed the issue as early as 2004 and connected it to 13 deaths.

The vehicles’ ignition switches can be bumped into the “Off” or “Accessory” position while the vehicle is running, disabling the power steering, power braking and airbags.

GM CEO Mary Barra and NHTSA acting administrator David Friedman will testify before the House panel on Tuesday.

The committee cautioned the timeline was “preliminary and incomplete” because it expects to receive additional documents. It said it has so far “received and reviewed over 200,000 pages of documents from GM and approximately 6,000 pages from NHTSA” and held meetings with officials from the government, General Motors and GM suppliers.

It revealed regulators again considered an investigation in 2010, but “determined the data did not show a trend.”

NHTSA did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Sunday.

Although it first announced the recall in February, GM said parts to repair the vehicles will not be available until April. It told customers their vehicles are safe to drive if they remove all objects except the vehicle’s key from the keychain.

By Gregory Wallace


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