General Motors has linked seven more deaths to its faulty ignition switch recall and added to the recall the other four GM cars using the same switch as the Chevy Cobalt and Pontiac G5 cars recalled Feb. 13.
GM on Tuesday increased the number of deaths it links to the problem from six to 13 and the number of crashes from 22 to 31 as it expanded the recall by more than 748,024 vehicles to more than 1.37 million in the U.S., plus an additional 253,519 vehicles in Canada and Mexico.
Models added to the recall are:
• 2003-07 Saturn Ion
• 2006-07 Chevrolet HHR
• 2006-07 Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky
These are in addition to the recall in the U.S. of 619,122 Chevrolet Cobalts from the 2005 through 2007 model years and 2007 Pontiac G5s.
The ignition defect, says GM, allows it to move unexpectedly from "run" to "accessory" if jarred or if pulled by a heavy key chain. That shuts off the engine and may disable the front air bags. The loss of the air bag crash protection is central to the safety recall.
In announcing the recall expansion, GM acknowledged the lag of years between indications of a problem as early as 2004 in the Cobalt, as first reported in USA TODAY, and the current recalls.
"The chronology shows that the process employed to examine this phenomenon was not as robust as it should have been," said GM North America President Alan Batey. "Today's GM is committed to doing business differently and better. We will take an unflinching look at what happened and apply lessons learned here to improve going forward."
Batey said, "We are deeply sorry and we are working to address this issue as quickly as we can."
USA TODAY reported Monday that the additional four models had been identified by GM as early as 2005 in a dealer alert as having the same potential switch problem. Along with Cobalt and G5, they all use switches with the same part number, an automaker's definitive way to identify components, as the recalled cars.
GM initially declined to explain publicly why it believed these other vehicles were not also at risk and should not be recalled. GM said it based the initial recall of Cobalts and Pontiac G5s compacts on its investigation, but did not rule out the wider recall and was in talks with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
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Similar complaints already had been made about these other cars. Two HHR owners, for example, had complained to NHTSA about air bags not deploying in front-impact crashes.
And a May 2009 report by TV station WTVD in Raleigh, N.C., quoted Loretta Barnes as saying her 2007 HHR "stalled on the train track" in Roanoke Rapids. She said she was able to quickly restart the vehicle but that it was a recurring problem, and "I'm scared."
She said she had taken her HHR to the dealership five times without the problem being solved. As a result of the TV report, Barnes said, GM gave her a deal on a new car.
Still unexplained by GM is an apparently safer switch, with a different part number, installed in all of these vehicles starting in 2008. None have been recalled.
GM won't say if the switch was revised to fix the stalling and air bag problem. Nor will it say if that later switch is the one dealers will use as the replacement for the recall repair on the older vehicles.
GM now is planning the acquisition of switches to do the repairs and a schedule for rolling them out.