Business

GM could face another fine for Impala recall

An internal e-mail shows that General Motors knew of a potential safety issue on the Chevrolet Impala in 2005.

General Motors via The New York times

An internal e-mail shows that General Motors knew of a potential safety issue on the Chevrolet Impala in 2005.

DETROIT — An old e-mail from a General Motors employee warning of a safety problem could help trigger another government fine against the automaker.

The Aug. 30, 2005, e-mail surfaced Wednesday during a House subcommittee hearing on GM’s delayed recall of 2.6 million small cars with an ignition switch problem. The e-mail outlined a similar issue with a larger car.

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Employee Laura Andres wrote that she was driving a 2006 Chevrolet Impala home from work when she hit a bump and the engine stalled on Interstate 75 near Detroit. The car behind her had to swerve to avoid a crash. A GM mechanic told her the cause was probably a faulty ignition switch.

‘‘I think this is a serious safety problem. . . . I’m thinking big recall,’’ Andres wrote in an e-mail to 11 GM colleagues.

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Yet it was not until Monday that GM recalled the Impalas, Buick LaCrosses, and other models with the same switch, almost nine years after Andres sent the e-mail. Safety regulators received dozens of similar complaints about the cars during that time.

GM said that excess weight on a keychain could cause the ignition switch to move out of the ‘‘run’’ position if the car is jarred. The engine stalls, and the car loses power steering and power brakes.

Under federal law, automakers must notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration within five business days of determining a safety defect exists. A fine up to $35 million is possible if the agency finds an automaker took too long to report a problem.

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GM paid a $35 million fine last month for its 11-year delay in reporting defective ignition switches in the Chevrolet Cobalt and other small cars.

GM would not comment Thursday on the possibility of another fine. NHTSA also would not comment on the Impala case, but said it reviews all recalls to make sure they comply with the notification law and it takes ‘‘appropriate action’’ when it finds problems.

Andres’s e-mail would not be enough to trigger the five-day rule, because it merely suggests that the ignitions are unsafe. But it is proof that some GM employees knew about a potential problem for almost a decade. GM has not yet submitted a timeline to NHTSA that will say when it officially determined the Impala switches were defective.

Andres, who still works for GM in design and engineering, could not be reached for comment. But in her 2005 e-mail, she urged engineers to build a stronger switch.

Andres’ warning was brushed off by GM engineer Ray DeGiorgio, who replied that he had recently driven a 2006 Impala and ‘‘did not experience this condition.’’

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