General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) has hired Anton Valukas to oversee an internal probe of an ignition-switch failure that resulted in 13 deaths. Valukas is chairman of Jenner & Block LLP, who served as a U.S. Justice Department examiner that dealt with the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings. GM is recalling 1.6 million vehicles and the investigation is being conducted by Valukas and GM General Counsel Michael Millikin. GM is also working with law firm King & Spalding.
The internal investigation is taking place at the same time that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is probing GM to find out what steps the auto company took to investigate engineering concerns and consumer complaints that dated back to 2004. GM was given until April 3rd to answer specific questions in a 27-page order that was issued on March 4th.
Last month, General Motors said that heavy key rings or jarring could have caused ignition switches in Chevrolet, Saturn, and Pontiac vehicles to slip out, which cut off power and deactivated air bags in the vehicles. General Motors connected this defect to 23 crashes and 13 deaths.
The NHTSA could fine GM as high as $35 million if it found that the auto company did not pursue a recall when it knew the cars were defective. The NHTSA may also seek criminal charges. If the fine hits $35 million, it would be the highest ever in the U.S.
GM’s newly appointed CEO Mary Barra said she is going to lead monitoring progress on the recall with other senior executives. The recalls affect Chevrolet Cobalts, Pontiac G5s, Saturn Ions, Chevrolet HHRs, Pontiac Solstices, Pontiac Pursuits, Saturn Skys, and Opel GTs.