General Motors announced three new recalls Monday, part of what chief executive Mary T. Barra called the automaker’s tighter focus on safety amid an unfolding scandal in which the company has linked faulty ignition switches to 12 deaths.
Speaking in a video to employees that was released Monday, Barra said the company is in the midst of a “comprehensive safety review” after last month’s recall of 1.6 million Chevrolet Cobalts and other models to repair ignition switches that inadvertently caused vehicles to stall, disabling their air bags. GM says it has linked the problem to 31 accidents and 12 deaths, and auto safety watchdogs have speculated that the toll could go much higher.
In documents turned over to federal safety regulators, the automaker acknowledged that it knew about the ignition problem for more than a decade before it issued the recall.
GM’s delayed action on the recall has attracted the attention of two congressional committees, which are planning hearings. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — which had explored GM ignition switch complaints for years but had struggled to pinpoint the cause of the problem — is investigating GM’s actions leading up to last month’s recall. Federal prosecutors, meanwhile, have launched a preliminary probe to determine whether a full criminal investigation of GM is warranted.
“These are serious developments that shouldn’t surprise anyone. After all, something went wrong with our process in this instance, and terrible things happened,” said Barra, who was promoted to chief executive in January. “As a member of the GM family and as a mom with a family of my own, this really hits home for me. We have apologized, but that is just one step in the journey to resolve this.”
Barra, who has announced an internal probe led by a former federal prosecutor, repeated her pledge to be open with investigators. She also said that GM’s ignition switch supplier, Delphi, had added a second shift and that replacement parts should be available by mid-April.
Analysts said the investigations and an expected flood of legal action could hurt GM just as its sales were rebounding and its reputation was improving after its 2009 bankruptcy and federal government bailout. Still, given the company’s improving sales and strong position in the fast-growing China market, it is broadly seen as being in a good position to weather the storm.
“GM’s North America break-even position, product portfolio and profitability remain highly competitive,” Moody’s said in a note Monday.
The recalls GM announced Monday are unrelated to the ignition switch problem but involve more than 1.5 million vehicles. The automaker said it has taken a charge of about $300 million to pay for the new recalls, as well as the one announced last month to deal with the ignition switch problem.
The latest recalls involve Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana vans, model years 2009 to 2014, that will receive reworked instrument panel materials to help meet federal requirements for passengers not wearing seat belts. Currently, unbelted passengers are at risk of serious head injuries from the instrument panels in an accident. The company said it has halted delivery of unsold vehicles until the company develops a fix for the problem and parts become available.
Other vehicles involved are the 2008-13 Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia, the 2009-13 Chevrolet Traverse and the 2008-10 Saturn Outlook, which are all large crossover SUVs. GM said all of those cars are eventually at risk of having their side-impact restraints — which include air bags and seat belts — fail to operate if drivers ignore air-bag service warning lights.
The third recall involves the 2013 and 2014 Cadillac XTS, a sedan in which brake booster pumps have a problem that could lead to overheating and engine compartment fires. GM said it was aware of two engine compartment fires in dealer-owned cars and two cases of wires and other components melting.
In her video to employees, Barra said the recalls offer a severe test for the company but one she is determined will eventually improve GM.
“The bottom line is we will be better because of this tragic situation — if we seize the opportunity,” she said. “I believe we will do just that.”