Roll Call published my piece today. It was written before the recall of 1.5 million vehicles for steering loss, in apparent response to our March 19 request.
Why did General Motors wait a full decade to recall more than 1.6 million vehicles that have been connected to 13 deaths and dozens of injuries?
Most of the questions at this week's Congressional hearings will certainly focus on who knew what, and when they knew it. The answers, and how they relate to the 2009 government bailout of GM, could have political and criminal implications. When it comes to questions of vehicle safety, congressional investigators no doubt will find that the bailout only enabled a culture of mediocrity at GM.
Almost two weeks after NLPC first requested that General Motors recall vehicles with defective power steering components, the company has agreed to the recall and finally remove the dangerous vehicles from the roads. Over 1.3 million Saturn Ions and related vehicles are included in the recall, bringing the total amount of GM vehicles recalled over the past month or so to over 6 million. The total cost to GM for the recalls will be in the billions of dollars with the latest recall probably accounting for over $1.5 billion on its own. The costs to GM's reputation are even greater.
In apparent response to our request, General Motors announced today that it would recall 1.3 million vehicles that may experience sudden power steering loss.
We made the request on March 19 after NLPC Associate Fellow Mark Modica found a glaring anomaly while examining documents on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website. NHTSA had already ordered a recall in March 2010 of Chevy Cobalts and Pontiac G5s for the steering loss defect but three years later had not yet ordered a recall of Saturn Ions, which have the same power steering system. In my March 19 letter to GM CEO Mary Barra, I wrote, "We do not know why NHTSA has not already ordered a recall or whether politics enter into its decision-making process. It doesn't matter. You have the authority to immediately recall these vehicles."
On Friday, General Motors expanded its recall of vehicles with an ignition switch defect, but Saturn Ions with a dangerous steering loss problem remain unrecalled, even though Chevy Cobalts and other models with the exact same defect were previously recalled. The two Congressional Committees holding hearings this week must directly ask GM CEO Mary Barra why these dangerous vehicles remain on the road.
It has now been almost two weeks since we requested that Barra immediately order a recall of Saturn Ions (MY 2004 to 2007) with defective electric power steering systems. GM had previously recalled Chevy Cobalts and Pontiac G5s in 2010 which had the same defective part (as reported here) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has had an ongoing investigation on the defect for years. The fact that the cost to repair the steering column on the defective vehicles is much higher than what it cost GM to repair ignition switches on recently recalled vehicles (same vehicles, different defect) may be the reason for the delay.
Merriam-Webster.com defines compassion as, "a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc." A Google search teaming the name Mary Barra with "compassionate" pulls up a host of articles fawning over General Motors' new CEO's handling of the company's botched recalls which seem to have cost at least 12 American lives. Contrary to the media's belief that GM is a compassionate entity working in the best interests of accident victims, the facts show that the response to defects in GM vehicles and subsequent recall delays has been anything BUT compassionate.
It appears that General Motors and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have still not done everything they can to assure the safety of American motorists regarding GM vehicles that have a history of dangerous defects.
The latest defect that I have uncovered relates to a loss of power steering in Saturn Ions for the model years 2004 to 2007. The same vehicles were recalled for a separate, unrelated ignition switch problem, along with the Chevrolet Cobalt and the Pontiac G5. The delay in the ignition switch recall has been blamed for the deaths of at least 12 Americans. Unfortunately, GM is equally slow in addressing the steering loss problem.
This letter is being sent today to GM CEO Mary Barra:
We ask that General Motors (the Company) recall Saturn Ions for the model years 2004 through 2007 without further delay.
These automobiles endanger the lives and safety of their drivers and passengers due to a loss of power steering, a serious problem of which the Company has been aware for several years.
According to a summary of an ongoing investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):
...GM indicated that the EPS (electric power steering) system used in the subject vehicles was the same as that used in the MY2005 to 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5. In March 2010, GM recalled approximately 1.05 million Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 vehicles (NHTSA recall no. 10V-073) to correct a defect with the EPS assist motor.
The following letter was sent today to Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee:
As your committee prepares for the upcoming House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the recent GM recall, I urge you to use every opportunity to examine what, if any, influence the U.S. government's ownership of GM has had on this troubling failure to address the dangerously flawed vehicles. In addition, we urge your committee to consider posing the following questions to panelists at your hearing:
The New York Times hinted that the 11 year death toll for victims who drove defective General Motors' vehicles (that are just now being recalled) may rise from the current 12 confirmed fatalities. The Times reports, "Since 2003, GM has reported at least 78 deaths and 1,581 injuries involving the now-recalled cars, according to a review of agency records."
It is not clear how many of the accidents involving one of the 1.6 million now-recalled vehicles were caused by the defect. The article does state that "the records mention potentially defective components" and "regulators appear to have overlooked disturbing complaints of engine shutdowns."