GM, auto industry shift gears concerning recalls

The nation’s largest automaker announced a total of five recalls covering 2.7 million vehicles Thursday. The biggest involves 2.4 million midsize cars from model years 2004 to 2012 with brake lights that can fail.
By TOM KRISHER, Associated Press Published: May 16, 2014
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— General Motors’ efforts to root out lingering safety problems across its wide range of cars and trucks has produced another big recall — and highlights a sudden shift at GM and throughout the industry toward issuing recalls instead of avoiding them.

The nation’s largest automaker announced a total of five recalls covering 2.7 million vehicles Thursday. The biggest involves 2.4 million midsize cars from model years 2004 to 2012 with brake lights that can fail.

GM acknowledged it knew about the brake light problem as early as 2008. That year it issued what’s known as a technical service bulletin, but that only required dealers to offer to fix the problem if the owner became aware of it. Such bulletins typically cover problems an automaker considers minor, and avoid the larger cost of a recall. But a driver’s safety could be jeopardized by unknowingly operating a car with a defective part.

In announcing the recall, GM said the brake light problem has been tied to 13 accidents and 2 injuries.

GM launched a top-to-bottom safety review after recalling 2.6 million small cars earlier this year for faulty ignition switches. GM knew about that problem for at least a decade, issuing service bulletins years before it started to recall the cars. The switch problem, which can unexpectedly shut down a car’s engine, has been linked to at least 13 deaths and has prompted multiple investigations, including one by the Justice Department.

“These additional recalls underscore how important it is to keep the pressure on GM to make sure the company is being as transparent as possible,” said Sen. Clare McCaskill, D-Missouri, who heads a Senate subcommittee looking into GM’s handling of the ignition switch problem.

The recalls could also add to scrutiny of federal safety regulators, who were criticized for their handling of the ignition switch problem. Documents filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that neither the company nor the government sought a recall to fix the brake light issue despite 1,300 consumer complaints and more than 14,000 warranty claims as of February of last year.

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By the numbers

On Thursday, General Motors Co. announced five new safety recalls covering 2.7 million vehicles in the U.S. Here’s a by-the-numbers look at GM’s recalls so far this year:

Number of vehicles GM has recalled in the U.S. this year: 11.2 million

Number of recalls: 24

Biggest recall: 2.6 million older-model small cars, including the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion, for defective ignition switches. (2.2 million in the U.S.)

Smallest recall: 355 Buick, Chevrolet and GMC vehicles from the 2014 model year for a transmission defect that was caught in the pre-production phase.

Record year for GM recalls: 2004, with 11.8 million vehicles recalled.

GM recall costs so far this year: $1.5 billion

Loaner cars provided by the company so far: 52,000

U.S. industry recalls in 2014: 15.4 million

Most U.S. recalls after GM in 2014: Toyota, with 2.9 million

•Record year for recalls in U.S.: 2004, with 30.8 million

Sources: The Associated Press, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, GM

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