LONDON (Reuters) - Vauxhall first logged a case of a fire linked to the ventilation system in its Zafira B cars in 2009, several years before a number of cases were widely publicized and prompted two recalls, the General Motors-owned <GM.N> British carmaker said.
In October, pressure began to mount on the carmaker after a Facebook group, which currently has more than 15,000 members, began highlighting the fires with pictures published in major British newspapers and websites.
A month later Vauxhall, the British equivalent of the Opel brand under which GM sells elsewhere in Europe, said it would recall around 235,000 of its right-hand drive mid-sized cars to inspect the heating and ventilation systems and ascertain the cause of fire-related incidents.
But on Tuesday, the firm's customer experience director told British lawmakers on the transport select committee that the first related Zafira B fire was noted seven and a half years previously and struggled to explain why it took so long to act.
"We have the first recorded case in a Zafira B that can be clearly attributed to the heating and ventilation fire that we are talking about here on the 11th of February 2009," Peter Hope said.
"We didn't know what we were dealing with," he said.
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The firm also said a fire in a car which had been recalled and repaired helped contribute to a second recall which it announced in May.
Vauxhall blames improper repair of the blower motor resistor and its thermal fuse for causing the fires and said it would fit a new resistor, blower motor and moulding.
The cost of the recalls is expected to cost 40 million euros ($44 million), according to Charles Klein, an engineering executive director with General Motors, who also appeared before the committee.
(Reporting by Costas Pitas; editing by Giles Elgood)