Nearly 2.6 million GM Vehicles Recalled, Costs Soar to 1.3 Billion

By Kim Smiley

During the first quarter of 2014, General Motors (GM) recalled 2.6 million vehicles due to ignition switch issues tied to at least 13 deaths.  Costs associated with the issue are estimated to be around $1.3 billion and, possibility even more damaging to the long term health of the company, is the beating the company’s reputation has taken.

The ignition switch issues are caused by a small, inexpensive part called a switch indent plunger.  An ignition switch has four main positions (off, accessories, on, and start) and the switch indent plunger holds the ignition switch into position.  In the accidents associated with the recent recall, the ignition switch slipped out of the on position and into the accessories position because the ignition switch plunger didn’t have enough torque to hold it in place.  When the ignition is put into the accessories mode, the car loses both power steering and power braking, and the air bags won’t inflate.  It’s easy to see how a situation that makes a car less safe and more difficult to control can quickly create a dangerous, or even deadly, situation.  Additionally, it’s important to know the problem is most likely to occur when driving on a bumpy surface or if a heavy key ring is pulling on the key.

The other key element of this issue is how the problem has been handled by GM.  There are a lot of hard questions being asked about what was known about the problem and when it was known.  It is known that the faulty part was redesigned in 2006 to address the problem, but the new design of the part wasn’t given a new part number as would normally be done.  Multiple federal inquiries are working to determine when it was known that the faulty parts posed a danger to drivers and why there was such a long delay before a recall was done.  The fact that the redesigned part wasn’t assigned a new part number has also lead to questions about whether there was an attempt to cover up the issue. GM is not civilly liable for deaths and injuries associated with the faulty ignition switches because of its 2009 bankruptcy, but the company could potentially be found criminally liable.

No company ever wants to recall a product, but it’s important to remember that how the recall is handled is just as important as getting the technical details right.  Consumers need to believe that a company will do the right thing and that any safety concerns will quickly and openly be addressed.  Once consumers lose faith in a company’s integrity the cost will be far greater than the price of a recall.

If you drive a GM car, you can get more information about the recall here.  The recalled models are 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.

To view the Outline and Cause Map showing the root cause analysis of this issue, please click “Download PDF” above.  Or click here to read more.