After $10.5 Billion Bailout, GM Recalling Nearly 5 Million Cars

by Jim Geraghty

You know that auto company that taxpayers spent $10.5 billion to save? They’re recalling 4.8 million vehicles as potentially fatally defective.

The expanding recall order from General Motors is being treated as a Detroit story, not a Washington story. But evidence is mounting that federal safety regulators made critical decisions that kept the defective cars on the roads:

Seven years ago, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration manager recommended investigating the reason for the non-deploying airbags in General Motors’ 2003-2006 Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion cars. This was revealed in a memo issued by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The chief of NHTSA’s Defects Assessment Division e-mailed other officials in the Office of Defects Investigation in September 2007, saying owner complaints from 2005 and “early warning” data about warranty repairs and injuries justified an investigation. According to an interview between current NHTSA officials and the House committee’s staff, the agency reconsidered after reviewing the data thus deciding not to open a formal investigation.

The officials at Delphi Automotive, the supplier of the ignition switches to the recalled GM cars, told congressional investigators that GM approved the original part in 2002. The approval was despite the fact it did not meet GM specifications. As early as 2001, GM was aware of the ignition switch problems, but no recalls were ordered until earlier this year.

This weekend, ABC News interviewed Steve Rattner, lead adviser to President Obama’s Auto Industry Task Force, and asked him how he felt about being called a “czar” . . . but nothing about the GM recall.

Let’s presume that GM never told President Obama’s Auto Industry Task Force about the safety issue of the switches and the massive liability issue it presented. Did anyone on President Obama’s Auto Industry Task Force ever check with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration? Did anyone on the Task Force even examine whether GM had any safety issues before going ahead with the bailout, which ultimately used $49 billion in taxpayer dollars?

Does anyone in Washington care?