Contrary to widely published reports, General Motors will not have the official assistance of NASA as it moves ahead with its internal investigation of the botched recall of 2.6 million vehicles equipped with faulty ignition switches, TheDetroitBureau.com has learned.
Those reports, which included a story on this site, indicated that the space agency was being recruited to study whether it was safe to continue driving the recalled vehicles if a motorist removed the ignition key from their key ring.
The issue has become a critical one because a federal judge in Texas is currently considering a request to “ground” all 2.6 million GM vehicles covered by the recall until they can be repaired.
“NASA is not working with General Motors on its ignition switch issue,” the agency’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Communications, Bob Jacobs, said during a Friday interview.
Separately, however, a source at NASA indicated there may have been “low-level” conversations between the agency and GM, but they did not extend to any formal or official level of cooperation.
(GM places two engineers on paid leave as it expands investigation into ignition switch recall. Click Here for the latest.)
The report of a link between GM and NASA first was reported by The Detroit News yesterday. GM officials would neither confirm nor deny the story, though GM spokesman Greg Martin did tell the newspaper, “I will say what we have in the past, that we will draw upon an array of outside expertise to help guide us during this time.”
The GM recall was initially launched in mid-February when the automaker announced that the ignition switches on a number of its older compact models could inadvertently switch off if there was too much weight on the key ring or if the vehicles were jarred on rough roads. The problem was initially linked to 6 deaths. But in the weeks that have followed, GM has repeatedly expanded the scope of the recall which has gone from an initial 800,000 vehicles to 2.6 million. And the problem has now been linked to 13 deaths and 31 crashes.
(Click Here for more on the latest Toyota recall.)
Meanwhile, documents released by both GM and by Congress indicate the maker first learned about the potential problem as early as 2001 and subsequently rejected a recall as not being cost-justified. That has spurred two days of contentious hearings on Capitol Hill, an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a possible criminal probe by the Department of Justice. GM also faces a number of lawsuits, and is awaiting the decision of the federal judge in Corpus Christi, Texas.
The maker this week began making repairs but the process could take a month or more to complete. Meanwhile, GM also announced that the vehicles involved will have additional repairs done to the ignition system to prevent the possibility of a key being removed while the engine is still running.
There does remain the possibility that NASA could be brought in to assist in the GM investigation, noted the agency’s communications director.
If NASA were approached by another agency in the government, such as NHTSA or the Department of Justice, “Obviously,” said Jacobs, “we would provide (assistance) as we have in the past.” Asked by NHTSA, NASA conducted an extensive study of the electronic engine control systems of Toyota vehicles in connection with that maker’s problems with so-called unintended acceleration.
On the other hand, if GM were to make a formal, direct request for assistance, added Jacobs, “It would require some inter-government agency coordination.” In other words, NASA would want to get the approval of both NHTSA and the Department of Justice to make sure it didn’t interfere with their own, ongoing investigations of the GM ignition switch recall.
(BMW the latest maker to join the recall rush. Click Here for more.)