GM's safety crisis expands

By Tom Krisher

The Pontiac Grand Prix is among the seven vehicles covered by General Motors' latest recall. Photo / AP
The Pontiac Grand Prix is among the seven vehicles covered by General Motors' latest recall. Photo / AP

General Motors' safety crisis worsened yesterday when the carmaker added 8.2 million vehicles to its ballooning list of cars recalled over faulty ignition switches.

The latest recalls involve mainly older mid-size cars and bring GM's total this year to 29 million, surpassing the 22 million recalled by all carmakers last year. The added recalls also raise questions about the safety of ignition switches in cars made by all manufacturers.

GM says the recalls are for "unintended ignition key rotation" and 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.

GM is aware of three deaths, eight injuries and seven crashes involving the vehicles, although it has no conclusive evidence faulty switches caused them.

Chief executive Mary Barra said the recalls stemmed from an extensive safety review within the company.

"If any other issues come to our attention, we will act appropriately and without hesitation," Barra said.

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 had to admit it knew of the problem for more than 10 years, yet it failed to recall the cars until this year.

The company's conduct in the small-car recall already is under investigation by the Justice Department and both houses of Congress. This year, GM paid a US$35 million ($39.96 million) fine for delays in reporting those problems.

Last month officials opened two investigations of Chrysler minivans and SUVs as part of a widening inquiry into air bag and ignition switch problems across the US vehicle industry.

Carmakers and parts suppliers were asked for information on switches and how long air bags would inflate after the keys were moved out of the "run" position to "accessory" or "off". In many cases, the answer was less than a second.

That led to the Chrysler inquiries.

GM's recalls yesterday bring this year's total so far to more than 40 million for the US industry, far surpassing the old full-year record of 30.8 million from 2004.

They came just hours after GM said it would pay victims of crashes caused by the defective small-car switches.

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