GM sales still cruising along despite recalls


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Evan Reynolds, 29, was driving along Fifth Avenue, Downtown, a few weeks ago when the power in his 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt abruptly shut off.

Mr. Reynolds said the brakes weren’t working and he had difficulty steering. He frantically pulled over to the side of the road, where he realized that he had to turn his ignition switch back on to restart the car.

“I panicked,” Mr. Reynolds said. “Fortunately there wasn’‍t a lot of traffic that day, or I would have been in an accident.” Shaking his head, he added, “It was very scary.”

The Bloomfield resident sat in a waiting room at Monroeville’s Rohrich Chevrolet dealership this month, looking out at the crowded parking lot. Through the glass windows he could see his car, which is among the millions of vehicles worldwide that have been affected by the General Motors Co. ignition switch recall.

Despite the wide-sweeping impact of the defect, sales of GM cars in the Pittsburgh area show no signs of slowing down.

Between May 2013 and May 2014, the number of registered GM retail cars and light trucks increased by 1.3 percent, according to data collected by the Greater Pittsburgh Automobile Dealers Association. Chevrolet still holds the largest market share in the area.

These numbers are in line with GM sales numbers worldwide, which have experienced little to no change since the recall began.

Local dealerships also are holding fast to their loyalty to the manufacturer.

“We’‍re proud to represent GM,” said Rob Cochran, president and CEO of #1 Cochran Automotive, one of the largest car retailers in the region. “Clearly there were some things that happened that should not have happened, but we’re confident that these internal processes are being corrected.”

While #1 Cochran does not carry Chevrolet, the most recognizable brand affected by the recall, Mr. Cochran said it has been replacing the ignition switches on a large number of older Saturns and Pontiacs.

Over 800 such cases have been reported at the Monroeville location alone, said Dirk Harper, director of customer care and loyalty. He added that 300 of these repairs have been completed, while another 350 await customers to come back for parts that have recently been received.

The actual repair process for the defective ignition switches requires no more than two hours, according to Mr. Harper. The delay in completing all the requests has been caused by a shortage of replacement equipment from GM parts suppliers.

Mr. Reynolds placed his request for an ignition switch fix in mid-June, but the parts were not available until late July.

“It’‍s pretty good service,” he said of Rohrich.

But regarding GM’‍s handling of the situation, Mr. Reynolds was more apprehensive. “Hearing that they’ve known about this for a long time ... it’‍s not good,” he said, referencing reports that suggest GM was aware of the problem years before they announced a recall.

The automobile manufacturer has been recalling vehicles since February as a result of a defect in the ignition switches. If a car passes over a bump on the road or the key is attached to a heavy chain, GM representatives said, the key could potentially shift inside the switch and shut off the vehicle. This June, the company announced a recall of an additional 8.2 million cars with faulty switches. A separate recall announced in July brought the total recall count, including other defects, to nearly 30 million this year.

GM reported net income was down for its second quarter from $1.2 billion a year ago this quarter to $190 million. The company took a $400 million charge to compensate people affected by the faulty ignition switches.

The vehicles affected by the ignition switch defect are the Chevrolet Cobalt and HHR, Pontiac G5 and Solstice and Saturn Ion and Sky, according to GM’s website. These models do not include those noted in the summer recall, such as the Chevrolet Malibu, Monte Carlo and Impala.

Charlie Farbacher, a service manager at Rohrich in Monroeville, said all GM dealerships were under a “gag order” that prevents employees from speaking about the recall. At the front counter where he worked, there was a pile of “Product Safety Recall” pamphlets for customers.

GM has established a compensation program for those who have lost loved ones or suffered serious injuries as a result of faulty ignition switches. The defect is connected to 13 deaths, the company has disclosed.


Yanan Wang: ywang@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1964.

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