GM has inked a $35m settlement with the US Department of Transportation, conceding to record fines and stringent oversight after failing to react sufficiently to the ignition switch issue that left millions of airbags potentially deactivated. The penalty is the current maximum the NHTSA can fine in civil penalties - though GM will in fact pay more, for sluggishness in handing over evidence during the investigation - while the agency describes GM's concessions for monitoring as "unprecedented".
GM conceded that it had not met the five business day notification requirement that the ignition switch assembly on some Chevrolet Cobalt and other models could inadvertently rotate if heavy keychains were left dangling, or other movement was made. Blamed on a sub-standard part, the flaw could leave the cars without power, shutting down safety features like the airbags in the process.
2,190,934 cars were eventually recalled, spanning GM's Chevrolet, Pontiac, and Saturn brands.
Moving forward, GM will now be handing over full results from its ongoing internal investigation into both how the issue happened and how it went unreported for so long. The car company has also been tasked to improve the processes by which safety concerns among staff can be escalated, and the speed at which recall decisions are made.
"GM must also take steps to maximize the number of vehicle owners who bring in their vehicles for repair, including targeted outreach to non-English speakers, maintaining up-to-date information on its website, and engaging with vehicle owners through the media. The Consent Order requires GM to submit reports and meet with NHTSA so that the agency may monitor the progress of GM's recall and other actions required" NHTSA
GM has already been considerably more vocal about recalls, announcing numerous (usually minor) flaws over the past months that it will be correcting for owners. Earlier this week it named 2.7m vehicles that would be called back in for various faults, including failing brake lamps, power steering that could unexpectedly deactivate, and brakes that would lose their power-assist.
However, the NHTSA is opening another investigation into another of the company's cars, the 2014 Chevrolet Impala, over a claim that its forward collision braking system activated without cause.
"Among other efforts, GM has created a new group, the Global Product Integrity unit, to innovate our safety oversight; we are encouraging and empowering our employees to raise their hands to address safety concerns through our Speak Up for Safety initiative, and we have set new requirements for our engineers to attain Black Belt certification through Design for Six Sigma" Jeff Boyer, VP of Global Vehicle Safety, GM
New GM chief Mary Barra apologized to those affected by the ignition switch problem back in April, claiming that she had been unaware of the issue.
Although GM's pay-out will set a record, the NHTSA is hoping to make things even more financially dangerous for car companies in future cases. If Congress approves the GROW AMERICA Act, the agency points out, it would increase the maximum penalty to $300m.