New information provided by General Motors Co. reveals that GM waited two weeks to expand its recall of vehicles affected by defective ignition switches to include the Saturn Ion and other compact cars.
GM Delays Saturn Ion Recall for Two Weeks
On Feb. 7, GM initially recalled 780,000 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 vehicles.
The recall was expanded on Feb. 25 to include the Saturn Ion and other compact cars known to have the faulty ignition switch.
The ignition switch in these models has been known to cause the engine and the major electrical components of the cars to shut down while drivers are operating the vehicles, resulting in the loss of safety features including anti-lock brakes and airbags.
There have been 34 crashes, including at least 12 fatalities, linked to the ignition switch failure.
New Information about the GM Recall
- An amended report submitted by GM reveals that the company was aware of the faulty ignition switch as far back as 2001, during preproduction testing of the Saturn Ion.
- Original reports claimed that GM found about the problem in 2004 while testing the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt.
- After the initial recall on Feb. 7, GM waited for a more in-depth analysis of the problem to recall the additional vehicles.
- Even after repairing the switch, drivers are advised by GM to avoid heavy key rings with unnecessary keys.
Investigations into the Recall
According to Reuters, there have been three inquiries launched to investigate events surrounding the recall:
- A U.S. Senate subcommittee plans to hold a hearing in April. The consumer protection committee will study the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration's (NHTSA) handling of the recall.
- Federal prosecutors have opened a probe to determine if GM is criminally liable for failing to properly disclose information. The U.S. Attorney is working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to examine the case.
- The U.S. House Energy and Commerce committee has also requested that GM and the NHTSA provide information about the faulty ignition switch.
- GM faces a fine of up to $35 million from the NHTSA.
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Internal documents show the General Motors first received reports of defective ignition switches in 2001.
Ignition Switch Defects Detected in 2001
A report by the Wall Street Journal suggests that General Motors Co. was aware of an ongoing ignition switch problem as early as 2001 – three years earlier than previously reported. In a new timeline released by GM on March 13, there was a documented problem with the ignition switch in a 2001 Saturn Ion prior to the start of regular production.
The problem is with the switch’s detent plunger and inner spring. The faulty switch can turn back to the “accessory” position when the key is jolted or if too much weight is hanging from the key.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched an investigation into the events surrounding the recall. GM has until April 3 to answer 107 questions posed by the NHTSA.
Updated Chronology of GM Recall
- Newly discovered reports uncovered by GM show a documented problem with the ignition switch in 2001 for a Saturn Ion assembled prior to regular production.
- In 2003 a service technician observed an Ion stall while driving. The owner had several keys on the key ring and reportedly “wore out” the switch. The switch was replaced, and the report was closed.
- In 2004 GM employees learned of an incident in which a Chevrolet Cobalt lost power to the engine when the key was jarred out of the “on” position. After an engineering inquiry it was determined to be too long and costly to fix the problem.
- The ignition switch was redesigned in 2007, but cars with the older-style switch were not recalled until February of 2014.
About the GM Recall
- Approximately 1.6 million cars are affected by the recall. At least 13 deaths and 33 frontal collisons have been linked to the defective swithces.
- Repairs will begin in April for the 2005-2007 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5, the 2003-2007 Saturn Ion, the 2006-2007 Chevrolet HHR, the 2006-2007 Pontiac Solstice and the 2007 Saturn Sky.
- GM is offering a $500 cash allowance for owners of the recalled vehicles to purchase or lease a new GM product if they are unhappy with the vehicle.
- Delphi Automotive PLC, who manufactures the switch, says the replacement part costs between $2 and $5, and it can be swapped out quickly by mechanics.
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A new review of federal crash data indicates that 303 people have died due to airbags failing to deploy in two GM models that were recalled last month for defective ignition switches – 2005-2007 Chevrolet Cobalts and 2003-2007 Saturn Ions.
About the GM Airbag Study
“N.H.T.S.A. claims it did not do an investigation because it did not see a defect trend. In some instances, single complaints can trigger recalls.” – Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety as published by the New York Times
In a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) the center criticized the regulatory authority for their failure to detect the airbag failures, as well as the defective ignition switches, and to designate the failures as a hazard to consumers.
The federal regulator denied any fault by stating that the data available at the time did not contain sufficient evidence of a possible safety defect to warrant a formal investigation.
GM argues that the report is unsound and that, so far, only 13 deaths can be positively attributed to airbag failures caused by the faulty ignition switches. The automaker has also denied responsibility for a number of those crashes, claiming that other factors, like alcohol, played a role in the collisions.
An attorney representing the family of one of the deceased, however, points out that “airbags are supposed to deploy whether people have been drinking or not.”
About the General Motors Recall
To date, GM has issued a recall of more than 1.6 million automobiles worldwide. The vast majority of those recalled, roughly 1.3 million, were sold in the United States.
When investigations began, court depositions indicated that the company knew of the defect as early as 2004, when a GM engineer experienced the issue while test driving a 2005 Chevy Cobalt, but waited 10 years to initiate a recall. More recent reports have GM identifying the problem in 2001.
GM is now facing a number of investigations from federal agencies and congressional committees including the NHTSA, the Department of Justice and the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The compnay could potentially face a fine of $35 million and further criminial investigatins should any fault be found.
U.S. Models currently being recalled are:
- 2005-2007 Chevrolet Cobalts
- 2007 Pontiac G5s
- 2003-2007 Saturn Ions
- 2006-2007 Chevrolet HHRs
- 2006-2007 Pontiac Solstices
- 2006-2007 Saturn Skies
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