Alan S. Batey, president of General Motors North America, said this week that the automaker’s nearly decade-long investigation of a defect that has now led it to recall 1.4 million vehicles — and is related to 13 deaths — “was not as robust as it should have been.” The admission came as the automaker tried to explain to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration why it took so long to recall the vehicles.
That explanation was in a chronological report from the automaker posted Tuesday on the safety agency’s website. Automakers must provide such a timeline with every recall.
“We will take an unflinching look at what happened and apply lessons learned here to improve going forward,” Batey said.
GM’s chronological report shows how, starting in 2005, the automaker was aware that it had a problem that could cause the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt’s engine to accidentally switch off. The report concluded that deaths might have been caused by the failure of air bags, which would have been disabled with the ignition in the off position. For years, the automaker continued its investigation, saying it was having trouble finding the cause.
On Feb. 13, GM said it was recalling about 778,000 vehicles, including the Chevrolet Cobalt from the 2005-07 model years and 2007 Pontiac G5 cars and reported that if the vehicle was jarred or the keys were jostled, the engine could inadvertently turn off, preventing the air bags from deploying.
GM said Tuesday that it was recalling about 748,000 additional vehicles. The models covered by the expanded recall are 2003-07 Saturn Ions, 2006-07 Chevrolet HHRs and 2006-07 Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky models. Consumer advocates had said that those vehicles should be recalled because they, too, had been identified as having the same problem as vehicles recalled this month in technical service bulletins sent to dealers.
GM’s chronological report angered many consumer advocates. Under federal regulations, once a manufacturer is aware of a safety problem it must, within five business days, inform the agency of its plan for a recall or face a civil fine. The maximum penalty is $35 million.
“It just shows with utter clarity there should have been a recall in 2006 or 2007,” Clarence Ditlow, the executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, said. “The only question is how many people died or were injured because there wasn’t an earlier recall?”