GM sues TV network over 'rigged' crash

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The Independent Online
GENERAL MOTORS yesterday hit back at critics of the safety of its pick-up trucks. It accused an American television network of falsifying a crash test in an investigative report broadcast last November.

GM, which lost a dollars 105m ( pounds 74.5m) liability suit in Atlanta last week, turned around and sued the National Broadcasting Company yesterday for defamation, suggesting it had 'rigged' a GM pick-up truck to explode on camera.

NBC's Dateline brought national attention to safety questions about the trucks, suggesting that their side-mounted petrol tanks were likely to burst into flames on impact with another vehicle.

GM has been on the defensive since last week, when a jury found it partly responsible for the death in 1989 of a 17-year-old who was driving one of the trucks.

GM, which faces dozens of suits for cases involving trucks sold between 1973 and 1987, is suffering from the bad publicity and is under growing pressure to recall the 4.7 million trucks on the road, a move that would cost it an estimated dollars 500m.

But GM's chief counsel, Harry Pearce, told a news conference in Detroit yesterday that the verdict was wrong and that GM would appeal.

He also produced evidence suggesting that the GM trucks that appeared in NBC's controversial crash video tape had been fitted with electronic igniters and with loose tank caps.

He also said there was no hole in the fuel tank of the truck that caught fire on tape, but that NBC had misled viewers into believing the flames had been sparked by the headlight of the on-coming crash car.

Mr Pearce said NBC was guilty of 'outrageous misrepresentation and conscious deception' in its report, which was seen by 11 million viewers originally and many more since in news reports of the Atlanta trial.

NBC yesterday confirmed that the trucks were equipped with a remote-control igniter, but said the fire was the result of contact between petrol leaking from a hole and a sparking filament in the headlight. It said it stood by its allegations.

Safety advocates have accused GM of embarking on a vast public relations offensive to counter the publicity generated by the Atlanta verdict, and to avoid the cost of the recall, or at least delay it until many of the vehicles - some of which are 20 years old - are off the road.

But Mr Pearce denied the charge, saying that GM was 'only hoping to end the sensationalism and distortion appearing in the mass media' over the issue.