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Employees work on the Chevrolet Tavera compact MPV assembly line inside a plant of General Motors India at Halol, Ahmedabad. Photo: Reuters
Employees work on the Chevrolet Tavera compact MPV assembly line inside a plant of General Motors India at Halol, Ahmedabad. Photo: Reuters

Government orders fresh probe in GM recall issue

Ministry of road transport and highways seeks to narrow down list of agencies and officials responsible for alleged violations

New Delhi: In a fresh twist to the controversy over General Motor Co.’s (GM’s) recall of more than 100,000 cars sold in India this year, the ministry of road transport and highways has called for another probe into the saga and directed company officials to appear before it.

The focus of this investigation is to narrow down the list of agencies and officials responsible for the alleged violations that may have led to the recall before the framing of punitive charges.

The company’s technical team, which met with ministry officials on Monday, had been asked to furnish more details on alleged data fudging that went on for seven years leading up to the recall.

A panel set up by the ministry probing the recall of vehicles by General Motors India Pvt. Ltd found that as many as two-thirds of the 114,000 ChevroletTavera multi-utility vehicles (MUVs) sold between 2005 and 2011-12 failed engine-testing norms, making it the largest reported violation under the Central Motor Vehicles Rules.

Mint first reported on 11 June that GM had halted the sale of Tavera and Sail models over quality issues. On 26 July, Mint reported that as many as 20 senior executives were sacked following the recall.

GM has admitted to the government that it had fudged emission data related to the recalled Tavera vehicles, according to a 24 October Mint report. The state-appointed panel headed by Nitin Gokarn, chief executive officer of the National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRIP), submitted its report to the government on 21 October.

“The issue is still how the random selection of vehicles were done for COP (compliance of production) norms. That is the main issue for which evidence is lacking. Who is at fault for that? Those evidences are not leading to a final, objective conclusion. The company has accepted but they have connived in it. How can you believe in a person who himself is accused?," a top government official said requesting anonymity.

“We have called the technical team of GM today for that," said the same official cited above. “We need more evidence on especially how the random sampling was done."

A detailed questionnaire sent to a GM India spokesperson on Monday remained unanswered. He did not respond to phone calls or text messages.

Mint had on 24 October reported that the panel headed by Gokarn did not find any evidence against the testing agencies.

However, on Monday, the government official cited above did not rule out the involvement of testing agencies in the controversy.

The official also said that the ministry will seek details of part replacements by the automaker after announcing the recall.

Sampling of defective GM vehicles was done by the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI), which is not a government body but an industry-sponsored agency governed by a board that represents vehicle manufacturers.

“It is intriguing that the Nitin Gokarn panel has absolved the vehicle-type certification agencies i.e., ARAI and ICAT (International Center for Automotive Technology) of no role of government departments and testing agencies, particularly ARAI which was involved in testing and CoP for eight years," said S.P. Singh, a senior fellow at Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training, a Delhi-based independent research firm.

The expert panel relying on GM India’s internal forensic and accounting audit for absolving testing agencies is incongruous, particularly when it has not been able to cross-examine GM India officials who have been removed or left the firm, Singh said.

A company spokesperson was quoted as saying in a Reuters report dated 19 October that the firm had restarted the production of its Tavera utility vehicles in India after receiving regulatory approvals.

“We want details from the company on how have they changed the new Tavera model to get a fresh type approval," the government officialcited above said.

The Financial Express newspaper on 8 August reported that General Motors India may have to take a hit of around 500 crore due to the recall, which includes costs incurred for fixing vehicles, payment of penalties to the government and the potential revenue loss.

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