GM adds 8.2M vehicles to recall list

| Monday, June 30, 2014, 9:45 p.m.

DETROIT — General Motors' safety crisis deepened dramatically on Monday when the automaker added 8.2 million vehicles to its ballooning list of cars recalled over faulty ignition switches.

The latest recalls involve mainly older midsize cars and bring GM's total recalls in North America to 29 million this year, surpassing the 22 million recalled by all automakers last year. They raise questions about the safety of ignition switches in cars made by all manufacturers.

In the latest recalls, GM said keys may be jostled or accidentally bumped, causing the ignition to slip out of the “run” position. The recalls cover seven vehicles, including the Chevrolet Malibu from 1997 to 2005, the Pontiac Grand Prix from 2004 to 2008 and the 2003-2014 Cadillac CTS.

The company is aware of three deaths, eight injuries and seven crashes involving the vehicles, although it says there is no clear evidence that faulty switches caused the accidents. Air bags didn't deploy in the three fatal accidents, which is a sign that the ignition was out of position. But air bags may not deploy for other reasons.

The announcement will mean heavier workloads for service departments busy with recalls announced earlier in the year, according to GM dealerships in Western Pennsylvania.

“It's been a disaster for us dealers,” said Shawn Kunst, service director at Crivelli Chevrolet Buick in Mt. Pleasant. She said the dealership corrected the ignition systems on 50 cars and has 80 more lined up, not including the latest recalls issued on Monday.

While parts are arriving more rapidly from GM suppliers, Kunst said, Crivelli is still receiving recall-related pieces it ordered in late April. She follows GM's advice and encourages affected drivers to keep weights off their key rings to prevent ignition system problems.

It's too soon to know when drivers affected under the latest recalls could get their vehicles fixed, but it could be a couple weeks or months if earlier ignition recalls are any guide, said Bernie Faccenda, service manager at Budd Baer Inc. in Washington.

He said workers at that GM dealership are logging longer hours to address all of the recalls.

“Basically, it's pushing the dealerships to max performance,” said Faccenda, who called customer safety the biggest goal. “It's just made a larger influx of vehicles to the dealership and a lot of worried people, a lot of people who are concerned — and rightfully so. We just try to help put their minds at ease, give them the information we have and help them through it.”

A GM spokesman couldn't say whether more recalls are imminent. But this might be the end of the recalls associated with a 60-day review of the company's ignition switches. At the company's annual meeting in June, CEO Mary Barra said she hoped most recalls related to that review would be completed by the end of the month.

Karl Brauer, an industry analyst with Kelley Blue Book, said the number of recalls — while huge — might be a good thing for the company in the long run.

“I think there's a new standard for what GM considers a potential safety defect, and Mary Barra has no tolerance or patience for potential safety defects that are unresolved,” he said.

Lance Cooper, a Marietta, Ga., attorney who is suing GM, said he was not surprised by the new recalls and expects more. A company-funded investigation of the ignition switch problems by former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas found that GM had a dysfunctional corporate culture in which people didn't take responsibility to fix the problems, Cooper said.

“Cars got made that were defective. The buck kept getting passed, and this is what happened as a result,” Cooper said.

The recalls were announced on the same day the company's compensation consultant, Kenneth Feinberg, announced plans to pay victims of crashes caused by the defective small-car switches. Attorneys and lawmakers say about 100 people have died and hundreds were injured in crashes; Feinberg said he didn't have a total.

Feinberg said the company has placed no limit on how much he can spend in total to compensate victims. But victims of the latest set of recalls can't file claims to the fund, which deals only with the small cars.

In the original recall, the ignition switches didn't meet GM's specifications but were used anyway, and they slipped too easily out of the “run” position.

“GM has basically said whatever it costs to pay any eligible claims under the protocol, they will pay it. There is no ceiling,” Feinberg said at a news conference in Washington.

The vehicles recalled on Monday have switches that do conform to GM's specifications. In these cases, the keys can move the ignition out of position because of jarring, bumps from the driver's knee or the weight of a heavy key chain. The cars will get replacement keys; the small cars recalled in February are getting new ignitions.

The announcement of more recalls extends a crisis for GM that began in February with small-car ignition switch problems.

GM recalled 2.6 million older small cars worldwide because the switches can unexpectedly slip from “run” to “accessory,” shutting off the engines. That disables power steering and power brakes and can cause people to lose control of their cars. It also stops the air bags from inflating in a crash. GM has been forced to admit that it knew about the problem for more than 10 years, yet it failed to recall the cars until this year.

GM has been reviewing the performance of its ignition switches since the first recalls were announced, and it continues to find more that can turn too easily. Of the 29 million vehicles recalled by the company this year, 17.1 million have been because of ignition switches.

Trib Total Media staff writer Adam Smeltz contributed to this report.

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