Government Safety Agency Missed Cobalt Clues

By: AP
By: AP

DETROIT For years, the U.S. government's auto safety watchdog sent letters to worried owners of the Chevrolet Cobalt and other General Motors small cars, saying it didn't have enough information about problems with unexpected stalling to establish a trend or open an investigation.

But an Associated Press review of government records shows there were plenty of complaints.

Over a nine-year period, 164 drivers reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that their 2005 to 2007 Chevrolet Cobalts stalled without warning. That was far more than any of the car's competitors from the same model years, except for the Toyota Corolla, which was recalled after a government investigation in 2010.

Stalling was one sign of the ignition switch failure that led GM last month to recall 1.6 million Cobalts and other compact cars, including the Saturn Ion, Pontiac G5 and Chevrolet HHR. GM has linked the problem to at least 12 deaths and dozens of crashes.

GM has recently acknowledged it knew the switch was defective at least a decade ago, and the government started receiving complaints about the 2005 Cobalt just months after it went on sale.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has asked for an internal investigation into the matter, and Congress has scheduled hearings next month.

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