August 7, 2014 at 8:32 pm

GM can't find nearly 140,000 recalled cars for ignition switch defects

About 6.4 percent of the nearly 2.2 million recall notices that General Motors Co. mailed for its ignition switch recall in the U.S. this year were undeliverable, according to a regulatory filing by the Detroit automaker. The disclosure shows the difficulty in recalling older vehicles that often are on second or third owners. GM executives repeatedly have said the company wants a 100 percent response to the ignition switch recall.

The automaker, in a required quarterly filing dated July 25 to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said 139,592 recall notices for Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other cars with defective ignition switches could not be delivered. The report for the second quarter also said that in 18 cases, the present owner was unknown.

GM paid a $35 million fine to NHTSA for the recall that was delayed by nearly a decade. GM has linked 13 deaths and 54 crashes to the defect.

The company recalled the vehicles because the ignition switch may move out of the “run” position while driving, shutting down the engine and disabling power brakes, power steering and air bags.

GM’s CEO Mary Barra has said it will work to reach as many consumers as possible and that GM is reaching out to owners through social media. It also is using avenues like full-page newspaper advertisements and is reaching out to Hispanic communities. The company’s special website for the recall, gmignitionupdate.com, is available in English and Spanish and features video messages from Barra and Jeff Boyer, GM’s vice president of global vehicle safety.

Because many of the cars recalled are nearly 10 years old and some are as old as 2003 models, it’s likely some have gone through numerous owners. And given the vehicles’ age, some could be in scrap yards. The company gets addresses from IHS Automotive’s Polk, which tracks registration data.

GM did not immediately comment and NHTSA had no comment Thursday. The company has held focus groups to try to figure out the best way to motivate owners to get the cars fixed. It has met with NHTSA staff to discuss ways of boosting response rates.

The automaker also sent an urgent notice to dealers on July 18, requesting they eliminate dealer-promotion key tags on key rings.

GM sends out reminder post cards every three months to encourage car owners to fix their vehicles. As part of its consent agreement with NHTSA for failing to timely recall vehicles with the ignition switch defect, the company is required to “engage with vehicle owners through new and traditional media, direct contacts with vehicle owners and other means” to maximize its recall completion.

The quarterly recall report says 281,581 vehicles were repaired through the end of June. That figure has risen greatly since supplier Delphi Automotive has increased production of parts at its Mexico plant. GM says as of Aug. 4, more than 693,000 vehicles have been repaired. It plans to have enough parts on hand to fix all 2.59 million vehicles recalled worldwide by October.

The average recall completion rate in the U.S. is about 75 percent each year, but the rate for older vehicles is much lower, according to NHTSA. GM has said its recall completion rate is among the best in the industry, at 80 percent a year after the first recall notice is sent to customers, and 85 percent after two years.

GM’s quarterly report shows it has a varied number of undeliverable notices, depending on what cars are being recalled; the undeliverable rate ranges from zero percent to a percentage point or two — and much higher in some recalls. Factors in those rates include age of the vehicles being recalled, and the number of owners.

Federal regulators require that carmakers notify customers within 60 days of when a recall is issued, even if no fix is available. Then, after there is a remedy, they issue a second letter.

Starting later this month, car companies must provide a free online recall search by 17-character vehicle identification number on their websites. That will allow owners and potential buyers to see if a recall has been completed; databases must be updated at least weekly. NHTSA’s site, www.safercar.gov also will offer the search.

DShepardson@detroitnews.com