6 killed in GM cars with faulty ignition switches – USA TODAY

Posted: Thursday, February 13, 2014

At least six people have died because of accidents involving faulty ignition switches in General Motors compacts, prompting the big automaker to recall 778,562 of its 2005-2007 Chevrolet Cobalt and 2007 Pontiac G5 compacts. Of those, 619,122 are in the USA.

Recalls almost never involve flaws that kill people. In fact, many involve no accidents or injuries.

But deaths have been involved in some notable recalls lately, including a Jeep recall last year, Toyota’s “sudden acceleration” recalls in 2010 that were blamed in part on driver error, and a Honda multi-year recall for faulty airbags.

This one becomes more difficult because the cars are old enough to be in the hands of second, third or even fourth owners. Automakers’ and federal safety officials’ experience shows that most subsequent owners don’t register their ownership with automakers, so it’s tougher to find them and notify them of a recall.

“GM is going to spend a considerable amount of time, money and effort locating and fixing the defective cars,” says Kaitlin Wowak, University of Notre Dame assistant professor of management ,who specializes in supply chain risks and disruptions.

GM said it knows of at least 22 accidents involving the ignition switches.

The nearly identical Cobalt and G5 were discontinued years ago but still can be found as cheap used vehicles for low-budget shoppers.

The recall is a black eye for GM, just as it regains its footing and is rebuilding its image because the government no longer owns any of its stock and its new CEO is the first woman to head a big automaker.

GM must “work on repairing the brand damage it will experience as a result of this recall. GM will be dealing with the repercussions for an extended period of time,” Wowak says.

Heavy key rings, loaded with other keys and keepsakes, can pull the switch mechanism out of the “run” position into “accessory” or “off,” GM says, causing the cars to stall and, in some cases, preventing the airbags from deploying. Jarring events also can cause the key to move and in some cases prevent the airbags from working.

Stalled engines also shut off power assist to steering and power brakes, making cars with those accessories harder to steer and stop.

GM says the switches may not have met the automaker’s specifications when they were installed in the cars.

“This latest GM recall involves 22 crashes and six fatalities tied directly to a design issue. Those are the numbers reported thus far, but with over 750,000 affected vehicles it’s possible more related incidents will be discovered now that it’s a widely reported problem involving the Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5” notes Karl Brauer, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book:

GM knows of five front-impact crashes and six fatalities in crashes where the front airbags did not deploy, though it said all were high-speed crashes where the probability of serious or fatal injuries was high in any case, the company told Reuters. It also said that alcohol use and not wearing seat belts figured in some of the fatalities.

GM says dealers will replace the ignition switch to remedy the problem. GM is urging owners to take non-essential items off of their key ring until the switch is replaced.

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