Recall woes follow GM into new year

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Even on New Year's Day, General Motors couldn't find respite from the ignition switch crisis that shook the automaker from the executive suite on down in 2014.

GM announced Thursday that it has recalled 92,000 additional SUVs and trucks for the potentially deadly flaw. The government was notified of its intentions Dec. 23 — a dubious punctuation point on what became the year of the recall for automakers.

GM and the industry as a whole called back more vehicles last year than in any year in history: more than 63.5 million industry-wide, according to the firm Stericycle, a company that tracks recalls, in 800 separate campaigns. The total vehicles recalled are more than twice the all-time record set in 2004.

For GM, the nightmare began in February, when it recalled 2.6 million older cars for a bad ignition switch that could cause vehicles to stall and air bags to fail in a crash. The defect has been blamed for 42 deaths and 58 injuries and spawned a number of investigations, including a congressional inquiry.

Other automakers, watching the GM crisis unfold, began recalling their own vehicles with flaws faster and led to calls by Congress and the Obama administration for sweeping auto safety reforms.

At least three major automakers set all-time records for most vehicles recalled in the United States in a single year, led by GM, which recalled the equivalent about 40 percent of all GM vehicles on U.S. roads today. By contrast, total U.S. vehicle recalls in 2013 were just 21 million.

GM issued four new recalls in the final days of 2014, bringing its total in North America to 84 recall campaigns and 26.95 million vehicles here — 30.43 million vehicles worldwide.

By contrast, GM recalled just 757,000 vehicles in 2013 in the United States in 23 campaigns. GM has added dozens of investigators and completely revamped how it responds to safety issues in the aftermath of the ignition switch recall.

Thursday's recall announcement was for 83,572 2011-12 Chevrolet Silverado HD, Silverado LD, Suburban, Tahoe, Avalanche GMC Sierra LD, Sierra HD, Yukon, Yukon XL, Cadillac Escalade, along with ESV and EXT versions in the United States. Nearly 9,000 were recalled in other countries.

GM dealers will inspect and replace the ignition lock housing if needed. GM didn't disclose a timetable for fixes.

The Detroit-based automaker said it expects fewer than 500 vehicles are expected to need repairs.

Spokesman Alan Adler said the automaker knows of no crashes, injuries or fatalities.

GM also announced other small recalls on Thursday covering about 200 vehicles and a recall on Wednesday covering 3,361 2015 Cadillac SRX vehicles for incorrect seat track brackets. GM said driver's seats with this condition may not be properly attached to the seat track.

Others were for about 200 vehicles: 152 2015 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 trucks because of an improper heat-treatment that could lead to the rear axle shaft to break while the vehicle is being driven; and 52 2015 Chevrolet Silverado HD diesel trucks and GMC Sierra HD diesel because the hose clamp that secures the fuel tank vent line may not have been properly tightened.

Others issue recalls

GM's recalls weren't the only ones announced as the world rang in 2015.

Also Thursday, Kia Motors America called back of 95,000 2010-13 Soul vehicles because a headliner plate may detach when a curtain air bag deploys; 61,000 Suzuki 2010-2013 SX4's were recalled because the shift selector can be moved out of the "Park" position without depressing the brake pedal, 3,700 BMW 2014 Mini Cooper Hardtop 2-door cars were recalled because they do not meet side impact performance requirements; and 1,300 Mercedes-Benz 2015 E-series cars were called back because the double seat belt buckle for the middle position of the rear passenger seat could fail.

Another serious and widespread safety issue continues into 2015.

Ten major automakers have recalled vehicles for potentially defective air bags made by Japanese supplier Takata Corp.

The government demanded a nationwide expansion of driver-side airbag recalls and Takata expanded the number of states where it says high humidity conditions could prompt airbags to explode and send deadly shrapnel flying.

Honda accounted for most of the Takata air bag recalls — and said five deaths and more than 40 injuries were linked to problems in its vehicles worldwide.

The GM and Takata recalls prompted six hearings in Congress and became one of the biggest business stories of 2014, costing automakers billions in additional costs, while raising questions about whether NHTSA has the resources and legal authority necessary to prompt fast action on vehicle defects. Congress quickly confirmed Mark Rosekind, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, Mark Rosekind, to fill the top job at NHTSA that had been vacant for nearly a year.

Worst may be done

Mike Rozembajgier, a vice president at Stericycle, which helps companies manage recalls, said it is unlikely that recalls will hit the same highs in 2015. He said it's important to remember that automakers will be working to try to repair millions of vehicles in 2015 that were recalled.

"We can think of 2015 as the year of recall completion for the record number of vehicles" in 2014 — on top of the vehicles recalled in 2015.

Chrysler Group LLC recalled about 8.8 million vehicles in the United States in 2014 — 2 million more than its all-time record set in 2000 when it was a unit of DaimlerChrysler AG, the company said. Honda Motor Co. also set all-time records for the most vehicles recalled in its history, calling back about 8.9 million vehicles in 2014.

Ford Motor Co. issued 42 recalls covering 4.9 million vehicles — far from its record — but significantly more than in 2013 when there were 16 recalls covering 1.2 million vehicles.

Toyota Motor Corp. had 22 recalls in 2014 covering nearly 6 million vehicles, compared with 15 recalls covering 5.3 million vehicles in 2013.

Final numbers won't be out until January, when NHTSA releases its final tally.