General Motors under fire in global recall row

US car maker accused of knowing of danger for almost a decade

General Motors’ chief Mary Barra: “Out of an abundance of caution, we are recalling the rest of the model years”

General Motors’ chief Mary Barra: “Out of an abundance of caution, we are recalling the rest of the model years”


Pressure is mounting on General Motors’ new boss, Mary Barra, as the American giant adds yet more vehicles to a controversial global recall. GM is recalling more than a million Chevrolet Cobalts, Pontiac G5s and Saturn Ions because of an ignition switch fault that can disable the passenger-side airbag without triggering a warning light.

As many as a dozen fatalities have been linked to the problem, but the most serious issue for GM is that it is accused of knowing of the danger for almost a decade without making any announcement or instigating a voluntary recall. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which polices American car makers for such issues, is also coming under fire for claims that consumers wrote to warn of the problem but were ignored.

In a statement, Ms Barra has said: “We are taking no chances with safety. Trying to locate several thousand switches in a population of 2.2 million vehicles and distributed to thousands of retailers isn’t practical. Out of an abundance of caution, we are recalling the rest of the model years.”

Even this may not be enough though, as US website this week revealed that the replacement ignition part has exactly the same part code as the faulty one. The only way to distinguish the two is to check the serial numbers to see which factory they were made in, and it means that there is the potential for cars to have new, but still faulty, parts fitted in the recall.

GM is trying to pour cold water on the issue, saying that its a legacy of the “old GM” attitude that prevailed before the company entered bankruptcy in 2009 and emerged much slimmed down, and more reactive.

Critics are pouring scorn on this though, saying that the problem had been identified even before the primary vehicle in the recall, the Chevrolet Cobalt, had gone into production. GM admits that it knew and that “after consideration of the lead time required, cost, and effectiveness of each of the solutions, the inquiry was closed with no action.”

Given Toyota’s recent USD$1.2-billion fine for misleading the NHTSA and US government over its 2009 unintended acceleration recall, GM could yet be on the receiving end of a serious political and financial battering over this.

Other than a handful of Opel GT models, no European cars are yet included in the recall, although GM has just issued an unrelated recall for Chevrolet Cruze 1.4-litre Turbo for fracturing half-shafts. It’s possible that some Opel models (which share the same engines as the Cruze) may also have to be recalled.