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Business briefs

Saturday, March 29, 2014 - 10:22 am

US safety agency missed Cobalt clues

DETROIT – For years, the U.S. government's auto safety watchdog sent form letters to worried owners of the Chevrolet Cobalt and other General Motors small cars, saying it didn't have enough information about problems with unexpected stalling to establish a trend or open an investigation.

The data tell a different story.

An Associated Press review of complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that over a nine-year period, 164 drivers reported that their 2005-07 Chevrolet Cobalts stalled without warning. That was far more than any of the car's competitors from the same model years, except for the Toyota Corolla, which was recalled after a government investigation in 2010.

Stalling was one sign of the ignition switch failure that led GM last month to recall 1.6 million Cobalts and other compact cars, including the Saturn Ion, Pontiac G5 and Chevrolet HHR. GM has linked the problem to at least 12 deaths and dozens of crashes. The company says the switch can slip out of the “run” position, which causes the car to stall, knocks out the power steering and disables the air bags.

GM has recently acknowledged it knew the switch was defective at least a decade ago.

Feds close look at Tesla battery fires

DETROIT – The U.S. government's auto safety watchdog has closed an investigation into Tesla electric car battery fires after the company agreed to install more shields beneath the cars.

Tesla says the shields will prevent road debris from damaging batteries and possibly causing fires.

The company will retrofit Model S cars sold in the U.S. with the new shields. It sold about 22,000 through February.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the shields and raising the ride height should reduce underbody damage and fire risk. Tesla says the action is not a recall.

New Mexico chile numbers down

LAS CRUCES, N.M. – A combination of dwindling water supplies in southern New Mexico and the availability of farm labor are taking their toll on one of New Mexico's most famous crops: chile.

Statistics released Thursday by state and federal agriculture agencies show the amount of hot peppers planted, harvested and produced in the drought-stricken state in 2013 was down from the previous year.

There were 65,000 tons of chile produced last year. That's about 16 percent less than the nearly 78,000 tons produced the year before and significantly less than a decade ago, when production topped more than 100,000 tons.

Fewer acres were grown in 2013, and officials said yields were lower for most varieties, including hot and mild long green chilies.

–From wire reports