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General Motors Fined $28,000 For Failure To Cooperate, Fee Could Go Much Higher

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General Motors Renaissance Center, Detroit, Michigan

General Motors Renaissance Center, Detroit, Michigan

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Blood has been drawn in the battle between safety regulators and General Motors: according to the New York Times, the automaker has been fined $28,000 for its failure to cooperate in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's "Switchgate" investigation.

The fine stems from GM's slow response to a specific NHTSA inquiry. On March 4, the agency asked GM to answer 107 questions about why the automaker knew about ignition switch issues in certain Chevrolet, Pontiac, and Saturn vehicles as far back as 2001, but only began recalling flawed vehicles in February 2014.

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NHTSA had set an April 3 deadline to receive GM's answers. To date, however, NHTSA's inbox remains empty. 

NHTSA says that it has accommodated GM's request for more time to respond to highly technical items on the questionnaire. However, the automaker hasn't even given answers for simple questions, like whether the ignition switch was re-designed at any time other than 2006. That's made agency officials very frustrated.

For its part, GM claims that it has cooperated with NHTSA in every way possible. Company rep Greg A. Martin notes that GM has supplied NHTSA with over 271,000 pages of relevant documents -- documents spanning the last 10 years.

NHTSA has begun fining the company $7,000 for every day that its answers are late. In theory, GM would now owe NHTSA $45,000 -- and counting -- but such fines are capped at $28,000. If the delay continues, NHTSA may be forced to hand over GM's case to the Justice Department, which could levy substantially higher penalties, like the $1.2 billion doozie with which Toyota was slapped last month.

We doubt the situation will escalate that dramatically, but just to be sure, someone might consider lighting a fire under GM's legal team. They're likely poring over every adjective and semicolon in GM's responses to minimize potential damage, and that may be part of the reason for delay.

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