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GM slammed with another 1.5 million vehicle recall over steering

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In almost a replay of the “Adventures of Toyota,” a couple of years ago where a day never seemed to go by without more and more models being recalled, it’s now General Motors turn to have the adventure.

Steering issue

In this, the latest episode of “Adventures, it seems that about 1.5 million models have issues with their steering systems.

To GM execs, it must seem like a case of “why are they picking on us,” although dealership executives and independent observers on various blogs have commented on the General’s usual habit in dealing with recalls – even this one -- with its usual string of denials until things can’t be denied any more, then trying to fix blame everywhere but on GM’s executive floor (the one with the special keys and washrooms) where it really belongs.

The final piece of GM’s usual defense is its mind-blowing habit of saying “it was us; it was really our dealers,” who, for years bought that line in return for whatever promises Detroit made. However, dealers are finally waking up and are facing GM down.

Costly problem

The problem that has many talking quite publicly is the issue where GM models like the Chevy Cobalt, Chevy Malibu, Malibu Maxx and others have a slight problem with their ignitions burning up at just the wrong moment.

Some 12 people have, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) died as a result of the ignition issue. This issue was first identified in 2001, according to various dealers around the country, and covers just about each GM line.

Ignition issue a doozy

Almost to a dealer or observer, the story remains the same: General Motors has become so desperate it has tried swinging its weight around in the background so corporate could look like it was remaining. They then planned to come riding to the rescue looking like a “white knight.”

Now this would have been great had the board not known about the issue 13 years ago, but it did.

They practiced GM’s old habit of keeping quiet or doing special warranty deals for those who complained about the issue (a longstanding solution, this observer has seen over a car-writing career of 48 years and whose credentials include stories in Automotive News, AutoWeek, Old Cars Weekly, Special Interest Autos, Automotive Age and Scholastic Press Auto Q&A for Kids).

If these were the old days where a word from GM could make or break a writer’s career, keeping things under wraps was easy as the automaker made a phone call or two to various writers.

But times have changed and NHTSA isn’t afraid of using its authority on the side of consumers, rather than manufacturers, so though GM has been twisting like a and eel caught in a net trying to find a way out of its issues, the only thing that has happened is the automaker has managed to bury itself deeper.

Some credit

To its credit, GM’s new CEO has promised the automaker will “own the problem” and “do what it takes” to solve it, even if it involves loaners and statements to the press taking full and complete responsibility, but (it’s a big one) at the same time, they have been trying to force dealers to save GM’s corporate tailpipe by standing up and saying as soon as “we knew about it, we asked the company for help.”

This was GM’s weirdly wacky way of damage control. But with 12 people claimed and who knows how many more before the problem is solved, it’s just – as was said in a movie – a dog “that won’t hunt.”

New recall

And, in what seems like a weekly happening GM was again slapped with another 1.5 -million vehicle – bringing the total number of cars recalled in the last month or so to more than six million -- with a recall for its power steering system.

As already mentioned, this little beauty can cause your GM product to have huge problems trying to change direction from straight ahead or from continuing in the direction they were traveling when it failed, making it nearly impossible for anyone but a body-builder to move the vehicle to the side of the road as the non-working power steering hydraulics worked against you.

Most of the time, the car will just go in one direction, either straight or in the direction in which the wheels were pointed.

The vehicles involved were included in an Associated Press story breaking the issue late this afternoon include:

  • Chevrolet Malibu from the 2004-2005 model years, plus some 2006, 2008 and 2009 model-year cars.
  • Chevrolet Malibu Maxx from the 2004-2005 model years, plus some 2006 model-year cars.
  • Chevrolet HHR from the 2009-2010 model years (non-turbocharged only).
  • Some Chevrolet Cobalts from the 2010 model year.
  • Some Saturn Auras from the 2008-2009 model years.
  • Saturn Ion from the 2004-2007 model years.
  • Pontiac G6 from the 2005 model year, plus some cars from the 2006, 2008 and 2009 model years.
  • Service parts installed into certain vehicles before May 31, 2010, under a previous recall

According to the AP report, it looks like even GM’s fix was bad. That’s a pretty nasty stew to have to face, especially after GM was flagged for making 960,000 subcompacts with the ignition problem this week and another 600,000 subcompacts for the same issue earlier in the month.

Buying time?

GM, which has said it will replace the power steering unit that it is blaming for the problem, has also replaced the head of its safety office, which makes sense in a company trying to buy time and deflect criticism.

What doesn’t make sense is the though GM has recalled subcompact Cobalts for the issue and it is recalled Pontiac G6s, though the line no longer exists. It has not automatically recalled Saturns based on the same platform, AP pointed out. If they had left the Pontiacs out one might have been able to understand it but it seems counterintuitive that Saturns haven’t been automatically recalled for the ignition problem, though the Saturn Ion is being recalled for the power steering problem.

GM claims it has had heard of no deaths of injuries related to the power steering issue, however, it cannot say that about the ignition issue. The automaker says it will likely cost them between $300 million and $900 million to fix the issues.

The automaker, through a spokesman, says owners of cars affected by the power steering issue will be told after April 28 when the parts will be available.

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