Only two months have passed since news of GM’s ignition switch recall made front-page headlines across the country. Back in April, GM CEO Mary Barra was questioned by Congress, and the company has since faced both personal injury and class action lawsuits. For many consumers, allegations that the company knew about certain defects but didn’t take action threw the reliability of other GM vehicles into question – even those not yet covered by a recall. Can customers trust their GM models are safe if other vehicles were subject to problems years before these issues were made public?
Earlier this month, GM was fined $35 million by the U.S. Department of Transportation over the faulty ignition switches that began this game of recall dominoes.
The answer, increasingly, is no.
There have been more than 30 separate recalls so far this year. That in itself is newsworthy. GM hasn’t recalled this many cars in 10 years – but those figures are easily eclipsed by news that GM has now recalled more cars than it sold in all of 2013. Last week, in a review of the most recent recalls, Zero Hedge reported that, having recalled 15.2 million vehicles so far, GM has recalled 56 percent more cars than it sold. (Last year, GM sold 9.7 million vehicles.)
Barra’s talk of a “new GM” is all well and good – and the company is presenting the recalls as part of its effort to ensure absolute safety for its customers. But you have to ask why it’s taken such extreme circumstances to bring about this investigation, and why, once the investigation began, so many cars were flagged for recall. Did GM know millions of vehicles had been shipped with potential defects? Or is this all news to them, prompting sudden action? Neither possibility is especially reassuring. Between a company that willfully endangers customers and one that doesn’t even know how its products work, consumers aren’t left with much of a choice when it comes to their safety and the cars they buy.
A quick search of GM’s website for “recalls” brings up several key press releases. There’s the recall of 2.42 million vehicles on May 20, five separate safety recalls issued on May 15, a recall of 1.3 million “older” vehicles on March 31 due to problems with the power steering, a March 17 recall of more than four million vehicles for problems with brakes, instrument panels, and wiring harnesses … and the list goes on. It is good that GM is actively recalling vehicles that may be affected. The alternative, clearly, is that they try to hide the problem, with terrible results. But the number of recalls has begun to be prohibitively difficult for consumers to track. A guide put together by The Wall Street Journal on April 1 is now well out of date, though Zero Hedge has compiled a list that’s accurate up to May 20, 2014. How long will that last? No one really knows.
Earlier this month, GM was fined $35 million by the U.S. Department of Transportation over the faulty ignition switches that began this game of recall dominoes. NPR estimates that recalls themselves have cost a further $1.7 billion so far (enough, The New York Times adds, to take care of much of the company’s annual profits).
Barra has also added 35 product investigators to its staff, and named its first vice present in charge of global vehicle safety. Again, these are good steps, but it’s difficult to see how the most valuable asset of all – the trust of consumers – can be regained. GM’s previous record for recalls was set in 2004, when 10.7 million cars were affected. There’s still half of 2014 to go – and, for better or for worse, it looks like it will be a record-breaking year for GM.
Of course, if you’re reading this post any time after it was published, there’s a good chance the figures are all wrong. Have more recalls been announced? We’ll keep you posted.