General Motors

General Motors Too Slow to Take Action on Cars with Power Steering Failures, Documents Show

April 21, 2014

Recently released federal documents show that General Motors (GM) waited more than a decade to recall more than 330,000 Saturn Ion cars that have power steering failures despite receiving thousands of complaints and warranty repair claims in previous years.

In the documents posted on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) website, the issue pointed to the “sudden loss of electric power steering (EPS) assist that could occur at any time while driving.”

According to the documents, complaints about GM vehicles’ power steering failures were filed as early as June 2004, while the first injury accident came to NHTSA’s attention back in May 2007.  The paperwork also show that NHTSA, the federal agency regulating auto safety, also did not seek for a recall of the Saturn Ion cars with model years 2004 to 2007 despite opening an investigation on the failed power steering systems more than two years ago, upon which it found that the problem had caused 12 crashes and two injuries.

Lawmakers and safety advocates have been concerned over GM and NHTSA’s actions. It could be remembered that both were criticized for their delayed actions on faulty ignition switches in 2.6 million GM Chevrolet Cobalt and other small cars, which has been linked to 13 fatalities. GM was aware of the problem–having received first word of the issue nine years ago–but only initiated a recall last February.

Rep. Diana DeGette, who served as a ranking member of a House subcommittee that questioned GM CEO Mary Marrara earlier this month on the problems regarding GM cars’ ignition switches, was alarmed by the documents released Saturday. She told CTV News “this raises more troubling concerns about GM’s and NHTSA’s actions as well as questions about whether NHTSA has the capability to effectively do its job.”

GM already issued a recall for Saturn Ion last March 31, wherein a total of 1.5 million vehicles worldwide are affected. Aside from Ion, the recall also covered older models like the Chevrolet Malibus, Chevrolet Cobalts, Chevrolet HHRs, Pontiacs and Saturn Auras. GM will be issuing four service bulletins regarding the problems according to NHTSA. Owners of the affected models will also be notified by GM later this month, though information regarding parts to be repaired is not yet available.

Based on the documents, NHTSA already closed its investigation into the Ion since GM already issued a recall on the affected vehicles. The federal auto safety watchdog, also noted that it was taking actions to immediately resolve the issue at hand.

Greg Martin, spokesman of GM, would not provide a direct comment on the issue regarding the Ion power steering. However, he quoted Jeff Boyer, GM’s new global safety chief, when the company issued the recall on the power steering last month, saying “We have recalled some of these vehicles before for the same issue and offered extended warranties on others, but we did not do enough…With these safety recalls and lifetime warranties, we are going after every car that might have this problem, and we are going to make it right.”

Photo credit: Michael Kumm / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

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