General Motors (GM) recalled 588,000 more vehicles last week due to a decade-old ignition switch problem, as questions arose about why the giant automaker took so long to respond to the issue.
Last week’s recall follows on the heels of 780,000-vehicle recall three weeks earlier to fix ignition switch malfunctions that shut down engines, cut the power-assist to brakes and steering, and disabled airbags. Problems caused by the ignition switches are now believed to have resulted in 31 crashes and 13 front-seat deaths. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) may investigate whether GM moved quickly enough to address the problem.
”The chronology shows that the process employed to examine this phenomenon was not as robust as it should have been,” said GM North American president Alan Batey, in a press release issued by the automaker last week. The problem, which has been traced as far back as the 2003 model year, involved the “torque performance” of the ignition switch. Because the switch mechanism was out of specification, it could too easily pop out of its “run” position and move to “accessory” or “off” positions, thereby shutting off the ignition and disabling the airbags. The problem could be initiated by something as simple as a heavy keychain or the sudden impact of the vehicle hitting a pothole.
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GM says it became aware of issues on its vehicles as early as 2004, when it received a field report of Chevy Cobalt vehicle losing power after a key moved out of the “run” position, according to documents filed with NHTSA. Cobalts in the 2005-2007 model years have been recalled.