Feds To Investigate GM's Recall Timing After 13 Deaths Reported

Last week it came out that a top General Motors engineer knew about a dangerous ignition system problem with the Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 a decade before a recall notice was issued, and after six fatalities were linked to the issue. Now the government is be investigating why that took so long.

As the recall expands to nearly 1.4 million cars including the Saturn Sky, Pontiac Solstice, Chevrolet HHR and Saturn Ion, and the death toll rises to 13, the Associated Press today reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was likely to look into the matter. Then the Detroit News' David Sherpardson confirmed as much just a few minutes ago.

The agency will review GM documents and question the automaker about when found the ignition defect and when they notified regulators.

"NHTSA will monitor consumer outreach as the recall process continues and will take appropriate action as warranted," the statement said. A spokesman wouldn't say what action is being considered or comment further.

NHTSA can fine the company up to $35 million if they find them to be not forthcoming with the information.

The cars involved in the crashes had a defect where a heavy key ring or rough roads can move the ignition switch out of the run position, cutting off the engine and electrical power and possibly halting the front airbags from deploying.

A service bulletin was issued in 2005, but it wasn't a full recall, and testimony in a lawsuit over a 2010 death revealed at least one GM engineer knew the technical service bulletin was merely an "improvement, it was not a fix to the issue." The AP says only 474 owners got the proper inserts to fix the problem.

A GM official even admitted that the problem should have been handled differently, and says it would be today:

"The chronology shows that the process employed to examine this phenomenon was not as robust as it should have been," said GM North America President Alan Batey. "Today's GM is committed to doing business differently and better. We will take an unflinching look at what happened and apply lessons learned here to improve going forward."