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NHTSA Closes Ion Power Steering Probe, Opens Bosch EV Charger Investigation

April 22, 2014

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently closed a four-year probe, and has now started yet another investigation.

According to the documents the NHTSA has filed in its online database, the safety agency is shutting down its investigation into power steering problems of 2004 to 2007 model year Saturn Ion cars after General Motors Co. recalled the units. The Ions are among those recalled due to defective ignition switches, which were related to at least 13 traffic fatalities.

The NHTSA first opened a preliminary evaluation of the matter in January 2010. Almost 335,000 Saturn Ions were affected with the power steering issue.

A total of 12 crashes were linked to the problem. Two of these caused injuries to the drivers. As per the agency’s documents, three happened in parking lots, six while turning at street intersections and one on a highway exit ramp. The incidents in parking lots and intersections happened at speeds below 30 mph; the sole crash on the highway exit ramp was into a guard rail at approximately 35 mph.

The Ion was among the 1.5 million GM vehicles recalled on March 31st due to possible power steering loss. Some of the other models recalled for this problem, such as the Chevrolet HHR and Cobalt, were also recalled for the ignition switch issue.

According to General Motors, the loss of the power steering assist will cause a message to be shown on the dash and a chime to be sounded in order to alert the driver. While the driver can keep control through manual steering mode, he or she must exert more effort at low speeds, which makes a crash more likely.

It took a long time for GM to recall the Ions and other models affected by the power steering problem as well as the ignition switch issue, which is why the automaker has been criticized for its slow response to customer complaints. Even GM global vehicle safety chief Jeff Boyer admitted that the company “did not do enough.”

Meanwhile, the NHTSA recently opened another probe, this time about electric vehicle chargers manufactured by German supplier Robert Bosch LLC. Safety regulators were prompted to start an investigation after a driver of a 2013 Nissan Leaf said that one such charger emitted smoke in the midst of charging.

According to the online documents filed on the weekend, the safety agency opened a preliminary evaluation to look into the possibility that approximately 50 chargers could overheat and cause fire. If the NHTSA discovers that there is a safety issue that the manufacturer must address, the agency will call for a recall.

In a consumer complaint filed in August last year, it was stated that a Bosch Power Xpress 240V charger had been charging for more than an hour at 30 amps at a private residence when the charger showed signs of overheating, including a ‘strong burning smell.’ It also stated that Nissan determined that the car was not the problem.

Cheryl Kilborn, a spokesman for Bosch, said that the company was aware of the filing and is currently reviewing it. She said that Bosch would cooperate with federal regulators to find out the cause of the problem.

Photo credit: General Motors/ CC BY-NC

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