Years after the company is alleged to have discovered the problem, General Motors (GM) recalled hundreds of thousands of vehicles last week as a result of a faulty ignition switch that could cause the affected models to lose engine power and possibly disengage vital components such as braking, power steering, and airbag systems.
GM has said it is aware of six deaths in five crashes related to the ignition defect.
The vehicles models reportedly affected by the ignition switch defect include:
However, only two of the models listed above—the Chevy Cobalt and the Pontiac G5—were included in GM’s recall last week of 778,000 vehicles in the U.S. and Canada.
According to a New York Times report and documents from a now-settled civil lawsuit, GM sent car dealers a technical service notice in 2004 about an ignition switch problem in all six vehicles listed above. The noticed warned that a heavy key chain dangling from the ignition of all six vehicles listed above could turn off the engine and even keep the air bags from deploying in accident. It is unknown why GM failed to recall the other four models covered in the service bulletin, but, according to The Times, their inclusion would have doubled the size of the recall in the U.S.
To remedy the problem, GM engineers created an insert to be put into the ignition switch of the affected vehicles. The insert, attorneys say, did not fix the issue.
General Motors told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in early February that the recalled vehicles’ “ignition switch torque performance” did not meet mandatory specifications. Specifically, if the vehicle was suddenly jarred or the driver had the key attached to a heavy key ring, the engine could turn off without warning and possibly cut power to essential safety systems. To date, GM has said it is aware of six deaths in five crashes related to the ignition defect in which the vehicle’s front air bags failed to deploy. In response, GM spokespeople claim some of the crashes involved alcohol, the failure of passengers and drivers to wear seatbelts, and excessive speeds.
According to CNN, a GM engineer first experienced the ignition switch problems while test driving a vehicle in 2004, with the problem confirmed by other engineers in 2005. Under law, CNN’s report continued, automakers must report all safety defects to the NHTSA within five days of their discovery, with a maximum fine of $35 million for failing to do so. Additionally, in the event of a recall, the NHTSA requires a “detailed chronology of events” included with the recall information to be provided to consumers. General Motors failed to include any such timeline in its report to the NHTSA.