'99-'05 Pontiac Grand Am (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)
General Motors Co.’s growing recall crisis ballooned Monday as the Detroit automaker called back 8.45 million more vehicles worldwide in six new recall campaigns — including 8.2 million cars for unintended ignition key rotation linked to reports of three deaths and eight injuries.
Monday’s recalls for ignition switch issues are the latest major campaigns for related problems since February, when GM began calling back 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other cars linked to at least 13 deaths and 54 crashes for defective switches. The callbacks were announced the same day GM opened a victims compensation fund for crashes linked to the Cobalt recall that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
GM has now recalled 14.8 million vehicles this year for ignition switch problems — more than doubling the total on Monday — amid growing scrutiny of vehicles whose ignition keys can move out of the “on” position and cause air bags to not deploy in a crash.
“We undertook what I believe is the most comprehensive safety review in the history of our company because nothing is more important than the safety of our customers,” GM CEO Mary Barra said of the latest recalls.
GM said it will boost the amount it is setting aside to cover recall repairs to $2.5 billion in the first half of the year, up from $2 billion. Trading in GM shares was suspended on the New York Stock Exchange on Monday shortly before the recall announcement. The stock resumed trading after about a half hour and fell more than 2 percent over its prior trading. GM closed down 1 percent to $36.30, off 32 cents.
Barra said earlier in June the automaker was conducting an ongoing review of all outstanding safety issues with the goal of resolving all outstanding issues by the end of the fiscal quarter, which was Monday.
GM spokesman Alan Adler said the latest ignition switch recalls Monday and in recent days were discovered after a company-wide look at all its switches. GM began the review about 60 days ago, he said. “We looked at every ignition switch we had.”
Adler said three things are happening in the new recalls to cause switches to move: The weight of the key ring can move the key. “Jarring events” like bumps and accidents can have the same effect. A knee bumping the key fob also can shut off the ignition.
Adler said the latest recalls are the result of “key issues,” not bad switches.
He said the issue is separate from the Cobalt recall. “That was a pattern over time, a lot more injuries, fatalities, number of years of issues,” Adler said in explaining why GM is not extending the compensation plan to these vehicles for ignition problems.
GM said one new recall for unintended ignition key rotation covers 6.8 million vehicles in the United States including the 1997-2005 Chevrolet Malibu; 1998-2002 Oldsmobile Intrigue; 1999-2004 Oldsmobile Alero; 1999-2005 Pontiac Grand Am; 2000-05 Chevrolet Impala and Monte Carlo; and 2004-08 Pontiac Grand Prix. The fix for those cars is an insert that closes the slot in the key to a smaller hole and provides less leverage for it to be turned off.
The other recall covers about 554,000 2003-14 Cadillac CTS, 2004-06 Cadillac SRX cars in the U.S. The primary fix for those also is a key insert.
GM said the two fatal crashes occurred in 2003 and 2004 Chevrolet Impalas, but it is not clear if the key accidentally shutting off the engine led to the crash. Air bags failed to deploy in both crashes, but the automaker said there is no conclusive evidence the defect caused those crashes. Both accidents occurred at high speed — one involved two deaths after multiple impacts on a highway ramp, while the other occurred when a car hit a tree, said GM spokesman Jim Cain.
NHTSA urged owners of the cars to “use only the ignition key with nothing else on the key ring when operating the vehicle.”
Ignition switches have received increasing scrutiny from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Late Monday, Chrysler Group LLC said it would recall nearly 700,000 minivans and SUVs worldwide under pressure from the government because of reports that a driver’s knee or bumpy roads can move the ignition switch out of the “run” position, causing the vehicles to stall and disabling the air bags. NHTSA said earlier this month it was opening two investigations into 1.2 million Chrysler vehicles.
With the latest recalls, GM has called back more than 25.7 million vehicles in the United States and 29 million worldwide this year in 54 separate campaigns.
GM now has shattered the all-time record for most vehicles recalled in a single year by an automaker. Ford Motor Co. recalled 21 million vehicles in 1981, but it was only to warn them that 1970-79 model-year cars and trucks could roll away — not to make any mechanical fix.
The automaker has issued a staggering 24 separate recall campaigns in the last 25 days covering about 13.2 million vehicles worldwide. That alone would have been an all-time yearly record for GM.
And it still may be forced to recall others. The automaker still faces four pending NHTSA investigations into other safety issues, including a probe that has been pending since 2010 into 1.8 million older pickups for rusting brake lines.
“Hearing about another round of recalls is becoming like watching the National Debt clock in Times Square,” Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for LMC Automotive, said in an email. “The count just keeps going up and up, and everyone keeps going about their business.”
Schuster said consumers currently view the GM recalls as making sure vehicles on the road are safe; he said the recalls have not materially hurt car sales or the stock. “I think this could become more of an investor issue if the charge continues to increase without an expected end date and it moves from a short-term issue to more of an ongoing one,” he said.
Earlier in June, GM recalled about 4 million cars for ignition switch problems in two separate campaigns. GM linked its recall of 3.4 million Impalas and other cars to eight crashes and six injuries. GM also recalled more than 510,000 current-generation Chevrolet Camaros for ignition switch problems linked to three crashes in which air bags failed to deploy.
GM also announced four other smaller recalls Monday, with only one resulting in an injury.
■189,000 2005-2007 Buick Rainier, Chevrolet Trailblazer, GMC Envoy, Isuzu Ascender, Saab 9-7x, 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer EXT, GMC Envoy XL vehicles are being recalled for the second time because of an electrical short in the driver’s door that could disable the lock and window switches, and in rare cases overheat the door control module. In August 2012, GM had opted to offer special coverage rather than a recall; but after pressure from NHTSA, the automaker agreed to the recall last year to add a protective coating, inspect the module and replace if necessary.
After fires were been reported since the initial recall — including some with completed repairs — GM will now replace the door control module in all vehicles.
■20,000 models of the 2011-14 Chevrolet Cruze, 2012-14 Chevrolet Sonic and 2013-14 Chevrolet Trax, Buick Encore and Verano are being recalled because the heater power cord may become damaged during very cold conditions. One injury has been reported, GM said.
■About 100 2014 Chevrolet Camaro and Impala and Buick Regal cars are being recalled because they may not have had a joint fastener tightened properly.
■12,000 2007-11 Chevrolet Silverado HD, GMC Sierra HD trucks with auxiliary batteries because an underhood part could melt.