July 1, 2014 at 11:57 am

Foxx: U.S. will keep up pressure on GM to do right thing

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx (AP)

Washington — U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx defended the government’s handling of auto safety issues as General Motors Co. continues to issue more recalls, and said it will continue to push the Detroit automaker to take action.

Foxx noted that as part of GM’s record-setting $35 million fine for delaying its recall of 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other cars, the automaker has agreed to up to three years of monitoring and monthly meetings with auto safety officials about all possible safety issues.

“We’re going to keep putting the screws on this until it gets right,” he told reporters at a Tuesday breakfast organized by Christian Science Monitor.

On Monday, GM recalled another 8.45 million vehicles for ignition defects. It has now recalled a record 29 million vehicles worldwide and 25.7 million in the United States — the most in a single year by any automaker.

Foxx said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as a standard practice “will take a look at the (new) recall(s)” to see if GM completed them in a timely fashion, but didn’t directly answer if the agency will open a formal review. Foxx added he thinks GM is acting in good faith.

“I think they are trying to get things right and go through the fire and figure it out, and hopefully, they’ll do that,” Foxx said.

He has spoken on a couple occasions to GM CEO Mary Barra, including getting briefed on the findings last month of the company’s internal report into the recall of 2.6 million vehicles linked to 13 deaths and 54 crashes.

GM spokesman Greg Martin said the automaker is focused on safety. “If you’re driving or riding in one of our vehicles, we want you to know that nothing matters more to us than your safety. That’s why we’re working as hard as we can and as fast as we can to identify product issues and take care of them,” Martin said when asked about Foxx’s comments.

Foxx said NHTSA has made major changes since its handling of Toyota Motor Corp.’s sudden-acceleration complaints and recalls in 2009 and 2010.

“We’re taking a look at the situation internally,” Foxx said, noting the inspector general is looking into NHTSA’s handling of GM complaints and seeing if NHTSA should make any changes in its procedures. We will always have to be working with industry on these issues.”

He also defended the agency, saying that had GM employees shared their “anecdotal concerns” with NHTSA, that could have made for a faster decision. He said the agency could always do better, but said it has a strong record of influencing recalls over the last decade.

NHTSA in recent months since GM’s recall crisis has taken a far more aggressive stance. It has pressured automakers to recall vehicles much more quickly and opened investigations after few reports of problems. The U.S. auto industry has recalled nearly 40 million vehicles this year, far more than the all-time record set in 2004 when all automakers selling cars in the U.S. recalled 30.8 million vehicles.

Foxx said NHTSA is taking a look at whether there are broader ignition problems in the industry. Chrysler agreed to recall nearly 700,000 vehicles for ignition problems similar to GM’s but hasn’t agreed to a more complicated fix that NHTSA thinks may be necessary. NHTSA has a separate ignition probe into about 500,000 older Jeep SUVs.

Foxx was asked if he felt comfortable being driven around in a GM vehicle — a government-owned armored Chevrolet Suburban — and he said yes. He reiterated that as long as drivers follow GM’s guidelines about removing keys from key rings, “We feel like they are going to be fine.”