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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

GM Announces More Ignition Problem Recalls

General Motors cars are displayed at the Sierra Chevrolet auto dealership as storm clouds build in the distance on March 2, 2010 in Monrovia, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)

General Motors cars are displayed at the Sierra Chevrolet auto dealership as storm clouds build in the distance on March 2, 2010 in Monrovia, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)

General Motors says it needs to change or replace the keys for about 3.4 million cars because they could cause the ignition switch to move out of position if they’re carrying too much weight.

GM said in a statement Monday that the switches can rotate out of “run” if the key has excess weight and the car “experiences some jarring event,” such as hitting a pothole or crossing a railroad track.

That can shut off the engines and disable power steering, causing drivers to lose control. Also, the air bags won’t work. The recall affects seven cars with model years ranging from 2000 to 2014.

GM is already recalling 2.6 million older small cars, mostly in the U.S., for a similar problem where the ignition switch slips out of “run” and causes an engine stall. In that case, the problem is with the mechanics of the switch. In this latest recall, GM says the problem is with the design of the key.




To Detroit now where the crisis at General Motors continues to grow. Yesterday, the company announced its 44 recall this year to change or replace the keys for nearly 3.4 million more cars. GM began to review ignition systems in all its cars after admitting a defect in the ignition switch of Chevy Cobalts and other small cars that causes the switch to slip out of run mode and stall the engine - a defect that caused at least 13 deaths.

It took GM over a decade to recall the cars, even though people at the company knew about it. Tracy Samilton is auto industry reporter for HERE AND NOW contributor, Michigan Radio. And she's here to position us in a story that you can be forgiven for thinking you've heard before. Tracy, GM has now recalled more than 20 million cars this year. Tell us more about this latest recall.

TRACY SAMILTON, BYLINE: The latest one is for more than 3 million, and it is eerily reminiscent of the scandalous recall where GM admitted it had delayed the recall for 11 years. So this is a situation where the key can slip out of run and go into accessory or off if you go - if you have a lot weight on the key and you go over a bump. Well, that turns the power steering off. It turns the power breaks off - makes it harder to control the car. And if you do get in an accident, your airbags will not work.

YOUNG: Terrible. So again, just remind people because a little while ago, GM also said, oh, by the way, don't use these heavy sets of keys. Try to drive with one key if you can, so that that - the heavy weight of the key doesn't cause this problem. So the earlier recall was of ignition systems. This recall is of keys. It sounds like they're all connected.

SAMILTON: Based on how I'm looking at this, I think it's a similar problem where you have low enough torque to turn off the car that the swinging weight of the key can actually pull it off. And it's just a different fix. In this particular recall, they say we're going to be able to fix the problem by actually changing the key. And in the earlier recall, they had to replace the entire ignition assembly.

YOUNG: It's hard to imagine why people would continue to drive, you know, with one key knowing that there's a problem. It just sounds so frightening. But how is GM doing? You know, all these recalls - are people still buying the cars?

SAMILTON: They are. I think we're paying a lot of attention in the news business to this, but I think the average consumer is not as obsessed with this. They may have heard about it, certainly, if they have one of the cars involved in these recalls, they're going to be - they've gotten a letter saying you have to go to the dealer. But May sales for GM, the April sales - these were all after the big scandalous recall - all - the company is doing quite well. And part of the reason may simply be because millions of people now are coming into the dealerships to get a problem on an old car fixed. And some dealerships are saying, hey, we've got this brand-new car over here. Wouldn't you like to trade in?

YOUNG: Meanwhile it's a reminder - we've reported on this before - that you should really check when you buy a used car that it isn't a car that's been recalled because we've learned that some of them are put back out on the street. But meanwhile, a GM CEO, Mary Barra, is going back to testify before Congress tomorrow. What is the sense that GM has fixed - is fixing these defects?

SAMILTON: Well, it's going to be tough with this big ignition-related recall coming, you know, two days before she has to, you know, testify. Now she won't be alone this time. She will have former U.S. attorney Anton Valukas with her who did an internal report which found, you know, a pattern of incompetence and neglect but not a cover-up at GM related to the recall. But it is going to be a tough thing.

YOUNG: Tracy Samilton, auto industry reporter for HERE AND NOW contributor, Michigan Radio, on the latest GM recall. Tracy, thanks so much.

SAMILTON: You're welcome. Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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