The faulty ignition switches at the heart of General Motors' recall woes are proving harder to fix than the automaker expected.
On Friday, GM announced that it would expand the recall by 971,000 vehicles worldwide to cover every Chevy Cobalt and HHR, Pontiac G5 and Solstice and Saturn Ion and Sky that it built — some 2.6 million cars in all — because it couldn't otherwise be certain that those cars didn't have the bad switch.
Those switches have been linked by GM to 13 deaths, with some safety advocates contending many more people could have been hurt when their cars shut off suddenly, leading to crashes with no air bag protection. GM, whose engineers first noticed a problem in 2001 but never launched a recall until earlier this year, has been called to testify to Congress about the delay, and could face hefty fines from regulators and the Justice Department.
Meanwhile, GM revealed two new recalls late Friday night involving some 662,000 vehicles separate from the ignition switches, including one linked to a fire in a brand-new 2015 GMC Yukon SUV during a test drive.
The original recall involved 1.6 million vehicles through the 2007 model year, when GM and parts supplier Delphi made a unusual change to the switch, increasing the torque required to shut off the vehicles. What GM apparently failed to consider was that it had sold some 95,000 faulty switches as replacement parts before the change was made — and because its engineers and Delphi never changed the part number, it had no way of tracking which replacements were defective.
GM said that of the 90,000 bad replacements, only about 5,000 may still exist in inventories; the rest have already been used over the years. It also says it knows of no injuries linked to crashes from those switches. Of the 2.6 million vehicles worldwide, 2.2 million were sold in the United States.
“We are taking no chances with safety,” said GM chief executive Mary Barra in a statement. “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."
Since GM and Delphi are still ramping up production of replacement parts, GM has told owners of the affected vehicles to take everything off their keychains but the main key to reduce the weight that could cause the vehicle to shut off. One Texas attorney has asked a federal court to force GM or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to order the affected models off the road until fixes are made.
GM has been trying to show it was getting ahead of its problems this week, but earlier Friday it revealed it had put a "stop sale" on about a third of its Chevy Cruze inventory — those cars with 1.4-liter turbo engines — for an unspecified problem. Late Friday, it revealed it was recalling 172,000 2013-2014 Cruzes to fix driveshafts that could break — a problem that had been the target of a previous recall affecting only cars with manual transmissions.
The other late-night recall involved 490,000 new Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra pickups and Chevy Tahoe/Suburban and GMC Yukon SUVs with six-speed automatic transmissions to inspect a transmission fluid line that could come lose, leaking fluid onto hot surfaces and starting a fire. GM said it was aware of three incidents stemming from that problem, but no injuries. All told, the automaker has now issued six recalls in the past month.