GM down to 1 million cars that need ignition switch fix

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. says it has less than 1 million cars left to fix with a deadly ignition switch defect, in part because the automaker believes a few hundred thousand cars it originally recalled have been scrapped and are no longer on the road.

The Detroit automaker says as of Nov. 24, GM dealers have repaired 1.36 million ignition switches globally out of 2.36 million the automaker believes are still in use, or 57.8 percent. That 2.36 million figure is down from the 2.59 million older Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other small cars it initially sought in recalls in February and March.

"The difference between the 2.59 million produced and recalled, and the populations being sought is made up for by scrapped vehicles or vehicles no longer traceable by registration," GM spokesman Alan Adler said in an email.

In the U.S., GM scaled back the number of vehicles with the ignition switch defect it is looking for by about 10.4 percent to 1.96 million from about 2.19 million. GM says dealers have repaired 1.14 million or 58.1 percent, leaving about 823,000 vehicles in the U.S. to be repaired.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the agency is aggressively monitoring GM's recall results and is meeting regularly with the automaker about outreach efforts. It did not comment specifically on GM's revised recall population figures.

Vehicles with the faulty ignition switches can slip out of the "run" position while driving, disabling power steering, power brakes and air bags. GM knew of the defect for more than a decade before recalling the cars now tied to 35 deaths. The automaker paid a $35 million fine to NHTSA for the delay, fired 15 people and has revised its safety organization.

GM executives have repeatedly said they want a 100 percent response rate to the ignition switch recall. Regulators say about 1 in 4 recalled vehicles are left unrepaired — and the figures are usually higher for older vehicles. Many of the cars recalled are more than 10 years old and could have had numerous owners. The vehicles recalled for the ignition switch defect include the 2003-07 Saturn Ion, 2005-10 Chevrolet Cobalt, 2006-11 Chevrolet HHR, 2007-10 Pontiac G5, 2006-10 Pontiac Solstice and 2007-10 Saturn Sky.

Jeff Boyer, GM's vice president of global vehicle safety, said in an interview late last month that GM is committed to meeting that goal.

"We want to get every customer's vehicles repaired," Boyer said. "And we're going to be steadfast in our efforts to work quickly on doing that."

The company has turned to social media, newspaper advertisements and specific outreach to Hispanic communities to help find customers.

GM is offering $25 gift cards to 705,000 owners of certain cars recalled for the ignition switch defect who have not ordered parts or contacted a dealer to get their vehicles fixed. The promotion, in which GM is sending notices directly to owners, runs through Jan. 1. It does not apply to owners of vehicles who already took their cars in to get fixed.

Boyer said GM continues to reach out to vehicle owners in several ways to encourage them to fix their cars. GM's supplier Delphi Automotive has completed service kits needed to repair all vehicles.

"We're understanding who those customers are in terms of demographics ... it may be families with kids, it may be young adults or older drivers, to segment and understand the populations in those terms and then define specific outreach strategies of what is the best way to contact those particular segments of our customers," Boyer said.

The Detroit automaker appears to have found more than 32,000 more owners of recalled vehicles with the ignition switch defect in the U.S. over the past quarter, according to a required quarterly report from GM to regulators in October.

In the October report, GM said it could not reach 107,205 vehicle owners, saying notices were unable to be delivered. But that figure was more than 32,000 higher in GM's July quarterly report when the carmaker said it could not reach 139,592 owners of the cars.

GM did not comment specifically on the October filing, but said that more than 99 percent of consumers in its research are aware of the recall.

A NHTSA spokeswoman declined to comment when asked about the figures in GM's quarterly report, and said the agency would be putting out a "consumer advisory" when it had GM's next quarterly report.

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