CAS Reveals Internal NHTSA Files on Cobalt Ignition Airbag Defect

The Center for Auto Safety is the nation’s premier independent, member driven, non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving vehicle safety, quality, and fuel economy on behalf of all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

March 7, 2014

CAS Reveals Internal NHTSA Files on Cobalt Ignition Airbag Defect
Calls for Independent Investigation of NHTSA’s Failure to Obtain Recall by 2007

             Citing internal NHTSA Death Inquiry Records, the Center for Auto Safety today demanded an independent investigation of NHTSA’s failure to obtain a recall by 2007. Using the Freedom of Information, CAS found that NHTSA sent Death Inquiries on 17 of 19 Cobalt and Ion death claims reported by GM under the Early Warning Reporting* system between 2004 and 2007.  Two of the Death Inquiries were on Special Crash Investigations into 2005 Cobalts done in 2006-07 that identified the defect but on which NHTSA failed to act. 

            CAS Executive Director Clarence Ditlow said:
General Motors’ 9 year delayed recall of 2005-07 Chevrolet Cobalts, 2003-07 Saturn Ions and 5 other models reveals a complete failure of the recall system that cost at 1east 13 people their lives.  While GM bears complete responsibility for failing to recall these vehicles by 2005, when it knew what the defect was and how to fix it, NHTSA has responsibility for failing to order a recall by early 2007, when it knew what the defect was and how to fix it.

Just as GM President Mary Barra has commissioned an independent investigation of why GM did not do the recall and remedy the ignition airbag defect at least 9 years earlier, there needs to be a similar independent investigation of NHTSA’s failure to act. People died and the agency shares responsibility for their deaths with GM.

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Click here to view the CAS letter

NHTSA Special Order to General Motors on Cobalt – 3/14/14

US Chevy Cobalt and Saturn Ion Deaths in EWR

CAS Letter to Attorney General Holder on EWR and NHTSA – 3/31/11

Click here to visit the GM Ignition Airbag Defect Homepage

* When the TREAD Act was passed in 2000, Congress required NHTSA to set up an Early Warning Reporting System (EWR) that required manufacturers to submit information on deaths, injuries, warranty claims, complaints and field reports.  EWR submissions by manufacturers and NHTSA summary reports on passenger vehicles are grouped into 24 component categories so broad one doesn’t know what the report is. E.g., one category covers the fuel system – is this the fuel filler neck, the fuel rail, the fuel injection, the throttle body, the evaporative canister, the fuel tank, the electronic control unit that controls fuel metering or what?  The categories are listed below.


steering system

suspension system

service brake system

parking brake

engine & engine cooling system

fuel system

power train

electrical system

exterior lighting


air bags

seat belts



vehicle speed control






Forward Collision Avoidance


backover prevention

lane departure