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Millions of recalled General Motors cars still need repairs

The General Motors Technical Center on June 5,

The General Motors Technical Center on June 5, 2014 in Warren, Mich. Credit: Getty Images / Bill Pugliano

General Motors Co. has repaired 154,731 cars of the 2.59 million recalled worldwide to fix a defective ignition switch tied to at least 13 fatalities, according to a memo released by U.S. congressional investigators.

About four months after the recall began, the largest U.S. automaker, has shipped 396,253 repair kits globally, the House Energy and Commerce Committee memo said Monday. A lot of the delay has been caused by the need to ramp up factories to make the replacement switches, which GM has said will take until Oct. 4.

Chief executive  Mary Barra, who testified before the panel in April, is scheduled to return June 18 to address unanswered questions about why GM waited so long to recall the cars, whose ignitions can abruptly be knocked out of  run mode, which disables air bags. Why GM initially accepted an ignition switch that didn’t meet its specifications and why so many employees didn’t consider stalling a safety issue also will be explored.

Barra will be joined by Anton Valukas, the Jenner & Block attorney who this month completed an internal review at Detroit- based GM of what happened. The report showed that multiple GM employees had chances during more than a decade to fix the part its designer eventually labeled the “switch from hell.”

The recall that began in February covers six U.S. cars as old as the 2003 model year and as recent as the 2011 model year, including model years 2003 to 2007 of the Saturn Ion and 2005 to 2010 of the Chevrolet Cobalt.

At John McEleney’s Chevrolet dealership in Clinton, Iowa, the service department has replaced about 50 ignition switches and they still have 170 more to go.

“Customers have been really understanding,” McEleney said in an interview. “I’m a little surprised because I thought, with the steady drumbeat and so many recalls, that people would start to think, ‘Boy, there’s a real quality issue here.’ But so far, that doesn’t seem to be the case.”

GM in May had its best month of U.S. auto sales since August 2008, rising 13 percent to 284,694 vehicles. In April, it reported first-quarter net income, despite $1.3 billion in recall-related costs.

McEleney said the recall hasn’t hurt Chevy’s sales or reputation because GM no longer makes the Cobalt or the other models being recalled for the ignition switch. Customers appear to be making a distinction between the cars GM used to build and the higher quality models now in the showroom, he said.

In a May 16 update, GM’s vice president of global safety, Jeff Boyer, said parts production was then running seven days a week on multiple shifts. The switch had been in “very limited production for several years,” he said. Its supplier, Delphi Automotive, was pulling machinery out of storage and finding new suppliers for part components, he said.

Automakers rely on vehicle owners showing up at the dealerships to get the safety repairs done. Recalls involving cars and light trucks historically have had a 77 percent completion rate, according to a 2012 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration analysis of five years of industry data.

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