DETROIT—General Motors’ safety crisis deepened dramatically June 30 when the automaker added 8.2 million vehicles, including almost 700,000 in Canada, to its ballooning list of cars recalled over faulty ignition switches.
The latest recalls involve mainly older midsize cars and bring GM’s total recalls in North America to 29 million this year, surpassing the 22 million recalled by all automakers last year. They also raise questions about the safety of ignition switches in cars made by all manufacturers.
In the latest recalls, GM said keys may be jostled or accidentally bumped, causing the ignition to slip out of the “run” position. The recalls 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.
The company is aware of three deaths, eight injuries and seven crashes involving the vehicles, although it says there’s no clear evidence that faulty switches caused the accidents. Air bags didn’t deploy in the three fatal accidents, which is a sign that the ignition was out of position. But air bags may not deploy for other reasons as well.
A GM spokesman couldn’t say if more recalls are imminent. But this may be the end of the recalls associated with a 60-day review of all of the company’s ignition switches. At the company’s annual meeting earlier in June, CEO Mary Barra said she hoped most recalls related to that review would be completed by the end of the month.
Karl Brauer, an industry analyst with Kelley Blue Book, said the number of recalls, while huge, may be a good thing for the company in the long run.
“I think there’s a new standard for what GM considers a potential safety defect, and Mary Barra has no tolerance or patience for potential safety defects that are unresolved,” he said.
In a June 30 statement, Barra said “we will act appropriately and without hesitation” if any new issues come to light.
Lance Cooper, a Marietta, Georgia, attorney who is suing GM, said he was not surprised by the additional recalls and expects even more. A company-funded investigation of the ignition switch problems by former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas found that GM had a dysfunctional corporate culture in which people didn’t take responsibility to fix the problems, Cooper said.
“Cars got made that were defective. The buck kept getting passed, and this is what happened as a result,” Cooper said.
The problem has drawn the attention of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the government’s road safety agency. On June 18, the agency opened two investigations into ignition switches in Chrysler minivans and SUVs, and acknowledged that it’s looking at the whole industry.
The agency is looking into how long air bags remain active after the switches are moved out of the run position. In many cases, the answer is less than a second.
GM’s conduct in the small-car recall already is under investigation by the Justice Department and both houses of Congress. Earlier this year, the company paid a $35 million fine to NHTSA for delays in reporting the small-car ignition switch problems.
GM also announced four other recalls June 30 covering more than 200,000 additional vehicles. Most are to fix an electrical short in the driver’s door that could disable the power locks and windows and even cause overheating.
GM’s June 30 recalls bring this year’s total so far to more than 40 million for the U.S. industry, far surpassing the old full-year record of 30.8 million from 2004.