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GM files 200,000 pages of documents about recall to safety agency

A man walks past a row of General Motors vehicles at a Chevrolet dealership on Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Michigan April 1, 2014. REUTERS/R
A man walks past a row of General Motors vehicles at a Chevrolet dealership on Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Michigan April 1, 2014. REUTERS/R

DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Co said it has submitted most of the answers that U.S. safety regulators sought from the automaker about a defective ignition switch linked to at least 13 deaths.

In response to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, GM sent some 200,000 pages of documents to the safety agency by a Thursday midnight deadline, GM spokesman Greg Martin said on Friday. The company has provided answers to nearly 65 percent of the 107 questions that the NHTSA asked, he said.

"GM is cooperating fully with NHTSA and is keeping the agency apprised at every step of its progress as it works to respond to the remaining questions within the special order," Martin said in an email.

NHTSA said in a statement it has been receiving documents from GM and "will take appropriate action based on the agency's review." The agency did not provide a timetable for making the documents public.

In addition to the NHTSA, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are investigating why GM took more than a decade to recall 2.6 million cars to replace the faulty switches. The largest U.S. automaker also faces a criminal probe by the Department of Justice.

Without warning, the switches can make vehicle engines stall while operating, stop air bags from deploying, and power steering and power brakes from operating.

GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra endured a withering attack at a Senate hearing on Wednesday that opened with accusations that the company fostered "a culture of cover-up." Barra also faced a House panel on Tuesday.

Since February, GM has recalled 2.6 million vehicles. And so far this year, GM has recalled a total of nearly 7 million vehicles, or about the same number recalled in the previous four years combined.

GM also confirmed the hiring of Jeff Eller, a crisis management adviser, to help in its response to the recall. Eller declined to comment, referring questions to GM.

Eller was chairman at Public Strategies Inc, which represented Bridgestone Corp's <5108.T> Firestone during its tire recall in 2000. He was also director of media affairs during President Bill Clinton's administration.

"As we have from the start, we are drawing upon those who have deep experience and expertise in these matters," GM's Martin said. "Jeff will join a team who is helping us guide our response.

It is GM's third high-level outside hire since the defective switches came to light.

On Tuesday, Barra said GM had hired attorney Kenneth Feinberg to examine what steps the company might take for families of crash victims. Barra said this week GM would take up to 60 days to evaluate the matter.

Feinberg administered funds to compensate victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the BP Plc oil spill, and Boston Marathon bombing.

Safety advocates said the move indicated the company was exploring setting up a victims' compensation fund, although GM has not confirmed that.

GM has also hired former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas to lead the company's internal probe of why it took so long to discover the defective switches. Barra said this week that would wrap up in 45 to 60 days.

Valukas was the court-appointed examiner in the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. His probe resulted in a report in 2010 that detailed the causes of the firm's spectacular collapse.

The automaker has said it would take a charge of $750 million in the first quarter, mostly for the recalls announced in that period, including ones linked to the defective ignition switch. That was increased from $300 million.

On Thursday, GM said in documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission it will also take a $400 million charge in the first quarter because of currency changes in Venezuela.

Separately, Ford Motor Co said on Tuesday it would take a first-quarter charge of $350 million to resolve currency issues with its business in Venezuela.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman and Bernie Woodall in Detroit; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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