DETROIT – General Motors (GM) on Tuesday doubled to 1.6 million the
number of small cars it is recalling to fix faulty ignition switches linked to
multiple fatal crashes.
Just two weeks ago, GM announced the
recall of more than 780,000 Chevrolet Cobalts and Pontiac G5s. It’s now adding
842,000 Saturn Ion compacts, Chevrolet HHR SUVs and Pontiac Solstice and Saturn
Sky sports cars.
The company was immediately lambasted
by a well-known safety advocate who says GM knew of the problem for years and
waited too long to recall the cars even though people were killed because of
GM says a heavy key ring or jarring
from rough roads can cause the ignition switch to move out of the run position
and shut off the engine and electrical power. That can knock out power-assisted
brakes and steering and disable the front air bags. The problem has been linked
to 31 crashes and 13 front-seat deaths. In the fatalities, the air bags did not
inflate, but the engines did not shut off in all cases, GM said.
It was unclear whether the ignition
switches caused the crashes, or whether people died because the air bags didn’t
The vehicles being recalled include:
Chevrolet Cobalts and Pontiac G5s from the 2005 through 2007 model years;
Saturn Ion compacts from 2003 through 2007; and Chevrolet HHR SUVs and Pontiac
Solstice and Saturn Sky sports cars from 2006 and 2007. Most of the cars were
sold in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
According to a chronology of events
that GM filed Monday with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,
the company knew of the problem as early as 2004, and was told of at least one
fatal crash in March of 2007. GM issued service bulletins in 2005 and 2006
telling dealers how to fix the problem with a key insert, and advising them to
tell customers not to dangle too many items from their key chains. But the
company’s records showed that only 474 vehicle owners got the key inserts.
GM thought the service bulletin was
sufficient because the car’s steering and brakes were operable even after the
engines lost power, according to the chronology.
By the end of 2007, GM knew of 10
cases in which Cobalts were in front-end crashes where the air bags didn’t
inflate, the chronology said.
In 2005, GM initially approved an
engineer’s plan to redesign the ignition switch, but the change was “later
canceled,” according to the chronology.
“They knew by 2007 they had 10
incidents where the air bag didn’t deploy in this type of crash,” said
Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Center for
Auto Safety. “This is a case where both GM and NHTSA should be held
accountable for doing a recall no later than the spring of 2007.”
“GM did this because they had no other
choice, the spotlight of public attention was on,” Ditlow told CBS News. “GM is just cutting its
losses, doing the right thing, but why were 13 lives lost?”
Margie Beskau, whose 15-year-old daughter was killed in
the 2006 crash of a Chevy Cobalt in Wisconsin, wants to know why GM didn’t issue recalls as soon
as it learned of the ignition switch problem.
“They knew something was wrong with the car before
the accident. I just don’t understand how they can knowingly put these cars out
and still let people drive them,” she told CBS News.
“This is my child. This is my baby girl.”
GM North American President Alan Batey
said in a statement that the process to examine the problem “was not as
robust” as it should have been and said the GM of today would behave
differently. “We will take an unflinching look at what happened and apply
lessons learned here to improve going forward,” he said.
GM spokesman Alan Adler said that
initially the rate of problems per 1,000 vehicles was low, so the company did
not recall the cars.
Messages were left seeking comment
Dealers will replace the ignition
switch for free, but Adler said it will take some time for the parts to be
manufactured and sent to dealers. No time frame was given for making the
“We are deeply sorry and we are
working to address this issue as quickly as we can,” Batey said.