In a vast escalation in its safety crisis, General Motors recalled more than 8.4 million vehicles worldwide Monday, bringing its total figures for the year above 28 million cars — more than the 22 million recalled last year by all automakers combined.
GM said it was aware of seven crashes, eight injuries and three fatalities in the recalled vehicles, but said there was no conclusive evidence that a defect had caused them. About 8.2 million of Monday’s recalled cars have ignition defects that lead to inadvertent key rotation. They include models of the Cadillac CTS and SRX and the Chevrolet Malibu, Monte Carlo and Impala, as well as the Oldsmobile Intrigue and Alero and Pontiac Grand Am and Grand Prix.
Trading in GM stock was suspended on the New York Stock Exchange when the announcement was made.
“We undertook what I believe is the most comprehensive safety review in the history of our company, because nothing is more important than the safety of our customers,” said GM’s chief executive officer, Mary Barra. “Our customers deserve more than we delivered in these vehicles.”
Almost all of GM’s recalls have come since the automaker began, in February, recalling 2.6 million older Chevrolet Cobalts and other small cars with a defective ignition switch that it has tied to at least 13 deaths and 54 crashes. The faulty switch can suddenly shut down the power in a moving car, disabling air bags and other safety features such as power steering and brakes.
The three fatalities in the newly recalled cars occurred in two accidents involving Impalas with ignition problems, GM said.
In those cases, the air bags did not deploy. That happens also to be a signature of the Cobalt ignition defect, though GM said the defects were not the same.
“We investigated these cases and could not rule out or determine conclusively that the ignition slipping into accessory was the cause for the nondeployments,” GM spokesman Alan Adler said.
The latest recalls came on the same day that Kenneth Feinberg, who was hired by GM to administer a compensation program for victims of the ignition switch defect, unveiled a payment plan. Under Mr. Feinberg’s formula, families of those who died would be entitled to at least $1 million, in addition to lost lifetime earnings and $300,000 for a spouse and each dependent. Crash victims with catastrophic injuries could receive much more.
In addition to the 8.2 million newly recalled cars with faulty ignitions, GM is also recalling almost 221,000 vehicles for a variety of other problems. GM and safety regulators have been aware of other problems in most of those vehicles for years.
More than 188,000 of those cars, including the 2005-07 Buick Rainier, Chevrolet Trailblazer, GMC Envoy, Isuzu Ascender, Saab 9-7X, as well as the 2006 Trailblazer EXT and GMC Envoy XL, have an electrical defect that can cause door and window failures, as well as a risk of overheating.
In February 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into Trailblazers from the 2006-07 model years, based on 12 consumer complaints about problems with the doors or windows, several of which involved fires. By June 11 of that year, the safety agency had gathered more than 240 related complaints, and 677 warranty claims about the problem had been filed internally at GM.
Two and a half weeks later, the automaker decided to conduct a “special coverage program” to address the problem. GM has repeatedly sent these letters, known as technical service bulletins, to dealers and sometimes to car owners as stopgap safety measures instead of ordering timely recalls, a New York Times analysis found.
But after talks with regulators, the program was converted in August into a limited recall of vehicles from “salt belt” states, including models of the Trailblazer, Envoy, Buick Rainier and other vehicles. Owners of cars from 21 states received a recall notice that described a “defect” which could allow fluid, such as melted snow containing road salt, to enter the door and cause corrosion that could short the circuit board, increasing the risk of a sudden fire. “It is advised that you park the vehicle outdoors until it has been remedied,” the notice said.
Owners in the remaining states received a different notice that described the same problem, but with softer language. There was no mention of a defect, nor was there a warning to park outside. Instead, it said, “Do not take your vehicle to your GM dealer as a result of this letter unless you believe that your vehicle has the condition as described above.”
Safety regulators and GM met to discuss the status of the regulator’s investigation on March 11, 2013, and, though it is not clear what was talked about, GM reclassified the special coverage program as a safety recall the following June.
Later, in an email to GM, Frank S. Borris II, the safety agency’s top defect investigator, wrote that regulators did not understand the basis upon which the company had decided to do a regional recall. “There is a general perception in ODI that GM is one of, if not the worst offender of the regional recall policy,” he wrote, referring to the agency’s Office of Defects Investigation.
First Published June 30, 2014 12:00 AM