After GM’s Apology: More Than 2 Million Dangerous Cars Still On The Road – Forbes
With last week’s release of a devastating internal investigation, General Motors General Motors sought to put a shameful, decade-long safety failure behind it, and begin the difficult job of restoring its reputation. A “deeply troubled” Chief Executive Mary Barra, whose urgent mission to fix GM is detailed in the latest issue of FORBES magazine, promised sweeping reforms to address “a pattern of incompetence and neglect” in G.M.’s failure to fix a faulty ignition switch blamed for 13 deaths.
Investors seemed comforted that the worst is behind the company, and after a temporary drop, GM shares recovered the next day.
Lost amid the mea culpas, however, is the fact that the vast majority of the 2.2 million cars recalled in the U.S. still haven’t been fixed, and are being driven every day on American roads, posing a potential life-threatening danger to their owners, passengers and other motorists.
As of June 4, Barra said 280,000 replacement kits (a new ignition switch, cylinder and key) had been produced and 130,000 vehicles had been repaired. That’s a lot of cars. But it’s still only 5 percent of the 2.6 million vehicles that need to be fixed globally.
Some drivers — almost 64,000 — have opted to drive a loaner car provided by GM rather than risk driving their recalled vehicle until they can get their car fixed. That leaves about 2 million un-repaired cars still tooling around U.S. roads.
There’s no way to know how many of those car owners are following GM’s advice, which is to remove everything from their key ring, including the key fob, to avoid jostling the key out of position. If the key slips into “accessory” mode, the vehicle could lose power, and the air bags might not deploy in an accident. With just the key in the ignition, GM says the recalled cars are safe to drive.
Despite substantial news coverage, not all car owners are even aware of the recall and the potential danger. Renee Trautwein, whose 19-year-old daughter, Sarah, died in a 2009 accident, is outraged that the faulty cars haven’t been taken off the road. “I stopped a young girl the other day,” said Trautwein. “She didn’t know there was a recall. She had a 2007 Cobalt.” Trautwein is behind a Change.org petition drive to prosecute GM employees who failed to act on the safety issue. “I can’t bring my daughter back but I can sure as heck try to save some more lives.”
A spate of automotive recalls in recent years have grabbed headlines but done little to change consumer behavior. In 2009 and 2010, Toyota saw a sales dip amid a safety crisis involving unintended acceleration in its vehicles, but customers didn’t stay away long. GM hasn’t seen any noticeable impact in its showrooms, despite the ignition problems in its older models which are no longer in production. “There have been so many recalls; people are immune to them,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst with AutoTrader.com.
GM has sent letters to current car owners, based on VIN registration data supplied by Polk. They’ve also set up a dedicated website, gmignitionupdate.com, added staff to a special customer call-in line (800-222-1020) and spread the word through social media. Even Barra herself has gotten personally involved, answering emails, calling customers and working the call center lines.
Production of replacement parts began in April and output will double by mid-summer as additional machinery is added. GM and its supplier, Delphi, are working seven days a week and adding production lines to speed parts delivery. The carmaker said it expects to have all the replacement parts it needs by October.
Despite the extraordinary outreach efforts, however, 20 percent of the cars might never be fixed. The Society of Automotive Engineers found that industrywide, about 70 percent of recalled cars get repaired. GM’s record is better than most: spokesman Kevin Kelly said an average of 80 percent of recalled cars are fixed within the first year; 85 percent by the second year. In a case like this, where lives are at stake, that just doesn’t seem good enough.
In April, a federal judge in Texas rejected a bid to compel GM to tell customers to stop driving the vehicles until they are fixed. The judge said it should be up to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to decide whether such action is warranted. The judge’s ruling averted a steep increase in recall costs to GM, which has already set aside $1.7 billion to pay for the ignition switch repairs, loaner cars and other unrelated recalls.
For the record, models affected by the ignition switch recall include: 2005-2010 Chevrolet Cobalts, 2006-2011 Chevrolet HHRs, 2007-2010 Pontiac G5s, 2006-2010 Pontiac Solstices, 2003-2007 Saturn Ions and 2007-2010 Saturn Skys.