General Motors Corp. yesterday asked a federal court to throw out most of the charges in a Justice Department suit alleging that the company misled the public about the safety of its 1980 X-cars.
GM's motion came one day after the department petitioned the court to begin an immediate recall of 1.1 million 1980 X-cars suspected of having serious braking defects.
Both actions stem from a $4 million damage suit filed Aug. 2 by the Justice Department on behalf of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
NHTSA alleged in the suit that GM knowingly produced and marketed the early X-cars even though the company had ample reason to believe many of the cars had rear brakes that could lock easily and cause loss of driver control. NHTSA asked in the suit that the affected cars be recalled.
In a procedural step Tuesday, the agency asked the court to order the recall and levy the fine without a trial. NHTSA said immediate action was needed because the agency had overwhelming evidence that GM had acted improperly, and that lengthy litigation would endanger the public by allowing the allegedly unsafe cars to remain on the road.
GM yesterday said the agency has no case and that NHTSA is trying to circumvent its own rules by seeking a recall through the court.
"Instead of following its own regulations by conducting public hearings and completing its administrative procedures, NHTSA precipitously aborted the proceedings and asked that the lawsuit be filed," GM said in a statement supporting its motion yesterday. GM said that neither the company nor the government made a determination that there is, in fact, a safety defect.
Nor does the company agree with NHTSA's contention that previous brake-related recalls of the 1980 X-cars--47,371 units in 1981 and 239,799 last February--were inadequate. GM said at those times, and implied yesterday, that it initiated those recalls only to avoid a court fight with NHTSA.
GM, accordingly, asked the court to dismiss the first four counts in the government's case. The first count alleges that GM "had determined, or in good faith should have determined prior to initial production of the X-car, that the braking system . . . caused premature wheel lock-up." The second charge is that GM knew in early production that the front brakes on the X-cars "had a tendency to corrode excessively." The third and fourth charges allege that GM "knowingly" conducted inadequate X-car recall campaigns in August 1981 and in February 1983.
GM last week denied the fifth and sixth charges of the suit, which allege that the company deliberately gave NHTSA misleading information and that it failed to comply with NHTSA rules governing information in recall notices.