Why Isn’t GM Recalling Saturn Ions With Steering Loss?

It appears that General Motors and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have still not done everything they can to assure the safety of American motorists regarding GM vehicles that have a history of dangerous defects.

The latest defect that I have uncovered relates to a loss of power steering in Saturn Ions for the model years 2004 to 2007. The same vehicles were recalled for a separate, unrelated ignition switch problem, along with the Chevrolet Cobalt and the Pontiac G5. The delay in the ignition switch recall has been blamed for the deaths of at least 12 Americans. Unfortunately, GM is equally slow in addressing the steering loss problem.

Back in December of 2010, NHTSA opened an investigation of Saturn Ions for model years 2004 through 2007. According to NHTSA’s website, the investigation was based on “846 complaints and GM identified 3,489 reports alleging sudden loss of steering power assist in model year (MY) 2004 through 2007 Saturn Ion vehicles…” The complaint was for a sudden loss of power steering.

This defect was the reason for a recall of Chevy Cobalts and Pontiac G5s in March of 2010,  a recall unrelated to the ignition switch recall. As with the current ignition switch recall, it appears that GM has tried to get away with doing only a partial recall of affected vehicles, putting drivers of 2004 to 2007 model year Saturn Ions (which still have yet to be recalled for the power steering defect) at risk. GM only recalled all vehicles with ignition switch problems after being criticized by media sources.

In its response to NHTSA, GM confirmed that the defective Ion part was the same as in the recalled Cobalts and G5s. In fact, GM had previously sued the part maker, JTEKT, for supplying the defective steering column parts back in 2009. GM obviously knew its vehicles were being driven with dangerous defective parts. Why has it taken GM so long to recall all of the vehicles? Also, considering the late 2009 timeframe (during GM’s bankruptcy emergence under the influence of the Auto Task Force), were members of President Obama’s team aware of the defect?

NHTSA (along with GM) has, once again, failed in its obligation to protect motorists. They were aware of the situation and even expanded the investigation in late 2011. But still, no recall! It is important to note that, since investigations were opened after GM’s bankruptcy process, “New” GM is fully responsible for the failure to address all defects relating to the investigations. Notifying Ion owners of a steering problem under a “service bulletin” is not a sufficient response and a full recall is in order.

An article from September of 2013 confirms that GM knew of the power steering defect in Ions and still has not recalled the vehicles. National Legal and Policy Center has drafted a letter to GM CEO, Mary Barra, requesting that model years 2004 to 2007 Saturn Ions be recalled for the power steering defect. Congress (which will also be made aware of the issues) should act quickly to assure the safety of motorists if GM does not recall all defective vehicles that continue to endanger Americans on the roads.

Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.