By Mike Colias, Crain News Service
DETROIT (May 16, 2014) — General Motors Co. is recalling 2.7 million U.S. cars and trucks for problems ranging from flawed brake lights and windshield wipers to brake problems, an escalation of the safety crisis that has enveloped the company for months.
GM said May 15 it expects to book up to $200 million in charges in the second quarter to cover the cost of recalls during the period. It took a $1.3 billion recall-related charge in the first quarter.
The recalled vehicles include a mix of newer models as well as older ones for potential flaws that GM had flagged years ago. The largest covers 2.4 million model year mid-sized cars from the 2004 to 2012 model years, including the Chevrolet Malibu, to fix a faulty brake lamp wiring harness that GM has linked to 13 crashes and two injuries but no fatalities.
The campaigns increase GM’s count since Jan. 1 to 24 recalls covering more than 11.2 million U.S. vehicles and 12.8 million across the globe, although those figures count some vehicles more than once because they are being called back to fix multiple potential safety defects.
In less than five months this year, GM has recalled about six times the number of vehicles that it had been recalling annually in recent years. From 2009 to 2013, it averaged 19 safety recalls covering 1.8 million vehicles.
Overall, GM said the latest recalls cover nearly 3 million vehicles worldwide.
The spate of recalls comes as GM accelerates its review of potential safety problems in the wake of its recall of 2.6 million small cars to correct faulty ignition switches that the company has linked to 35 crashes and 13 deaths.
The recalls announced May 15:
• 2.44 million 2004-12 Malibu; 2004-07 Malibu Maxx; 2005-10 Pontiac G6 and 2007-10 Saturn Auras to modify the brake lamp wiring harness.
GM said the vehicles could have corrosion in the wiring harness for the body control module, which could result in brake lamps failing to illuminate, or could cause brake lamps to light up when they’re not supposed to.
The condition also could disable cruise control, traction control, electronic stability control and panic braking assist, GM said.
GM said it’s aware of “several hundred complaints” and 13 crashes but no fatalities. It said it issued a technical service bulletin in 2008 and conducted a smaller safety campaign of 2005 model year vehicles in January 2009.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation into the brake lamps in Sept. 2008. But after GM issued a service bulletin, the agency closed the investigation in January 2009 because it said that was “sufficient to resolve the issues raised by this investigation.”
NHTSA opened another investigation in February 2013 in response to more than 300 consumer complaints about brake lights not working properly. GM informed the agency of “a significant number of warranty claims and over 1,100 reports that potentially relate to the alleged problem,” NHTSA said.
The agency upgraded its investigation in June 2013 to an engineering analysis, which remains open, according to its website. NHTSA informed GM of the upgraded status in a Nov. 14 letter.
• 140,067 Chevrolet Malibu sedans from the 2014 model year for a problem with the electronic brake control module that can increase the risk of crashes. GM said dealers will reprogram the control module.
GM said it’s aware of four crashes, but it is unclear whether they are related to the problem. It’s unaware of any related injuries.
• 111,889 2005-07 Chevy Corvettes for a potential loss of low-beam headlamp function.
GM said a problem with the wiring to the low-beam headlamp could cause it to stop working intermittently. GM said it is aware of “several hundred complaints” but no crashes related to the flaw.
GM said 103,158 Corvettes from model years 2008-13 that have the same problem with the low beams will be fixed under a customer satisfaction program.
• 19,225 Cadillac CTS models from the 2013-14 model years for the possibility of the windshield wipers not working “after a vehicle jump start with wipers active and restricted, such as by ice and snow.” GM said lack of visibility from inoperable wipers could lead to a crash, but it is unaware of related crashes or injuries.
• 477 Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra light-duty pickups from the 2014 model year and 2015 model year Chevy Tahoe SUVs for a problem with a tie rod threaded attachment to the steering gear stack.
GM said the attachment might not be tightened properly, allowing the tie rod to separate from the steering rack and “a crash could occur without prior warning.”
The company said it sent overnight letters to customers on May 14 instructing them to have their trucks taken by flatbed to their dealer for an inspection and fix. GM said it discovered the defect during assembly.
GM safety chief Jeff Boyer told Automotive News on May 14 that the recent proliferation of recalls follows several moves GM has taken since February to weed out any long lingering safety problems while also more closely scrutinizing potential flaws on newer vehicles.
“We wanted to resolve matters in front of us that for whatever reason have not been closed to this point,” he said.
Mr. Boyer said GM has taken several steps to detect older flaws more quickly, including the addition last month of about 35 safety investigators.
Last month, GM said it had boosted its team of product investigators to 55, up from 20 previously. The investigators analyze reports of crashes, customer complaints, lawsuits and other data relayed to the company that could indicate a safety problem.
“Bringing on that additional capability and capacity was a key part of making that happen quickly,” Mr. Boyer said, who oversees that investigation team.
GM also is more closely tracking any potential problems with vehicles that have just hit the market, Boyer said.
Several recent recalls have involved redesigned vehicles that had barely left the assembly plant, including a few dozen 2015 heavy-duty Silverado and Sierra pickups recalled for a potential diesel fuel leak.
“We’re identifying emerging issues that our customers have more quickly,” Mr. Boyer said. That way, “if we need to take action, the amount of vehicles is smaller and the customer experience is improved. We’re trying to be more nimble.”
GM CEO Mary Barra in March appointed Mr. Boyer to the newly created job of vice president for global vehicle safety as one of her first moves after vowing to redouble GM’s safety efforts.
The auto maker also has created a system internally that encourages employees to speak up if they see a potential safety problem. And GM is requiring engineers to eventually achieve the highest level of certification in Six Sigma, a widely used program for quality improvement that relies on a set of techniques to stamp out potential causes of defects.
GM is the subject of at least four federal investigations and is conducting its own probe into the company’s handling of the defective ignition switch, which was used in small cars from model years 2004 to 2011 before GM finally recalled the cars in February.
This report appeared on the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.
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