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GM has recalled nearly 18 million U.S. vehicles this year

GM told regulators that it would recall 3.16 million older-model vehicles because a combination of too much weight on the key chain and jostling from something such as hitting a pothole could cause the car’s ignition to inadvertently stall. (Jeff Kowalsky/European Pressphoto Agency)

General Motors ordered another massive recall Monday to fix an ignition-switch defect similar to the flaw linked to 13 deaths and 54 accidents in small cars that triggered a huge series of recalls this year.

GM told government regulators that it would recall 3.16 million older-model vehicles because a combination of too much weight on the key chain and jostling from something such as hitting a pothole could cause the car’s ignition to inadvertently stall. The company said it is aware of eight crashes and six injuries related to the defect that triggered the latest recall.

The number of vehicles involved in the latest recall is greater than the automaker’s annual sales in the United States in 2013. GM is under intense scrutiny from a series of investigations stemming from the deadly ignition-switch flaw that led to the recall of 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalts and other small cars. The company has launched 44 recalls this year covering 17.7 million vehicles in the United States and 20 million across North America.

GM set aside an additional $300 million to pay for the latest recall, bringing the amount the automaker plans to spend on recall-related repairs this year to $2 billion.

“They are doing a thorough review over there at General Motors,” said Joan Claybrook, a consumer advocate who headed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration during the Carter administration. “I think it is a defense against the U.S. attorney in New York, who is investigating GM. It is not only happening with GM but with other automakers as well.”

About 28 million vehicles have been recalled in the United States this year, approaching the 30 million record set in 2004.

A criminal probe of Toyota this year ended with the company agreeing to pay a $1.2 billion fine for deceiving the public and federal regulators about the scope of an unintended acceleration problem with some of its most popular vehicles several years ago.

Now GM is under investigation by federal prosecutors, Congress and law enforcement officials in several states in connection with the ignition-switch flaw in its small cars. The company is also facing dozens of lawsuits and has hired compensation specialist Kenneth R. Feinberg to establish a fund to compensate victims injured in connection with the defect.

“Between Toyota and GM, the calculus for all automakers has changed,” said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, an advocacy group. “What previously might have been a service bulletin now has them erring on the side of caution, and they are doing a safety recall.”

The latest GM recall involves seven models, all but one of which are no longer in production. The company said the fix involves reworking the ignition keys by adding an insert. Work is expected to begin in the next few weeks, GM said, adding that it will replace the keys if they cannot be reworked. Meanwhile, owners of the cars are asked to drive with only their ignition keys on their rings.

The models involved are: 2005-2009 Buick LaCrosse, 2006-2014 Chevrolet Impala, 2000-2005 Cadillac Deville, 2004-2011 Cadillac DTS, 2006-2011 Buick Lucerne, 2004-2005 Buick Regal LS and GS, and 2006-2008 Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

The automaker also announced recalls for 165,000 other vehicles to deal with five separate issues, including potentially faulty power-steering hoses and transmission cables.

Michael A. Fletcher was a national economics correspondent, writing about unemployment, state and municipal debt, the evolving job market and the auto industry.
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