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U.S. Rejects GM Plea to Ax Truck Hearing

November 16, 1994|From Associated Press

DETROIT — Rejecting a request from General Motors Corp., the Transportation Department said Tuesday that it will go ahead with a public hearing on whether millions of GM pickup trucks should be recalled as fire-prone.

The company, which has vowed to fight a recall, had asked that the hearing be canceled so it could take the issue straight to court.

The Dec. 6 hearing promises to be a public relations disaster for GM, with appearances by families of victims and survivors of fiery crashes.

In a letter Tuesday to GM, the Transportation Department's general counsel said such hearings are important to find out the additional information the government needs before deciding on a recall.

GM responded in a statement that the hearing would be a waste of time and an "orchestrated talk show" in which plaintiffs' lawyers and industry critics would vie for the microphone.

Transportation Secretary Federico Pena scheduled the session last month and declared that 1973-87 GM pickups present an "unreasonable risk" of fire or explosion in side collisions because their gas tanks are mounted outside the frame. He blamed the sidesaddle design for 150 deaths.

GM insists the trucks are safer than most vehicles on the road.

Pena has acknowledged that the trucks met federal safety standards, but he said the law requires that they be safe in "real-world conditions" as well.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been investigating the trucks since 1992, when consumer groups petitioned for a recall. The agency last year asked GM to recall the trucks voluntarily, but the auto maker refused.

About 9 million of the trucks were built. GM changed the gas-tank design beginning with 1988 models. The company believes about 6 million of the 1973-87 pickups are still in use.

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