(Updates with Akerson comment in fourth paragraph.)
Jan. 24 (Bloomberg) -- General Motors Co. Chief Executive Officer Dan Akerson said politics are behind the “disproportionate level of scrutiny” of the Chevrolet Volt since its batteries leaked and started fires after crash tests.
The Volt has become “a surrogate for some to offer broader commentary” on GM and on President Barack Obama’s administration, which has promoted electric vehicles, Akerson said in testimony prepared for a U.S. House hearing tomorrow.
A House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee overseen by Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, is probing the responses of Detroit-based GM and U.S. regulators to the crash-test fire in June. The hearing will be the morning after Obama’s annual State of the Union speech, which comes as candidates prepare for the U.S. presidential election in November.
“The Volt’s entry into the market came soon after GM’s emergence from its government rescue and restructuring -- and during this political season,” Akerson said in his testimony. “As such, the Volt seems, perhaps unfairly, to have become a surrogate for some to offer broader commentary on General Motors’ business prospects and Administration policy.”
GM and U.S. regulators didn’t disclose the fire until Bloomberg News reported it in November. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened a formal investigation later that month and closed it last week, saying electric cars posed no more of a fire risk than gasoline-powered models, after GM announced a fix for current and future Volts, avoiding a formal recall.
The regulator said its decision to start the investigation was unusual because no Volt fires were reported outside of crash tests.
Issa has questioned the delays by GM and the regulator in notifying the public about a safety defect. He asked NHTSA Administrator David Strickland in December whether his agency “deliberately suppressed” disclosure.
GM introduced the Volt, which Akerson called “a technical showcase for GM,” after a U.S. government bailout. The U.S. Treasury owns 32 percent of GM shares, down from 62 percent, according to a report prepared by GM’s government affairs staff this month.
Obama has set a goal of having 1 million electric vehicles on U.S. roads by 2015.
--Editors: Bernard Kohn, Andrea Snyder
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