Congress Must Ask Barra Why GM Hasn’t Recalled Saturn Ions with Power Steering Loss

GM recallOn Friday, General Motors expanded its recall of vehicles with an ignition switch defect, but Saturn Ions with a dangerous steering loss problem remain unrecalled, even though Chevy Cobalts and other models with the exact same defect were previously recalled. The two Congressional Committees holding hearings this week must directly ask GM CEO Mary Barra why these dangerous vehicles remain on the road.

It has now been almost two weeks since we requested that Barra immediately order a recall of Saturn Ions (MY 2004 to 2007) with defective electric power steering systems. GM had previously recalled Chevy Cobalts and Pontiac G5s in 2010 which had the same defective part (as reported here) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has had an ongoing investigation on the defect for years. The fact that the cost to repair the steering column on the defective vehicles is much higher than what it cost GM to repair ignition switches on recently recalled vehicles (same vehicles, different defect) may be the reason for the delay.

GM recently recalled Saturn Ions for a faulty ignition switch after a deadly delay that is alleged to have cost at least 13 lives. The recall for the Ions only came after media sources criticized the company for doing a partial recall of defective vehicles when they recalled Chevy Cobalts and Pontiac G5s (two weeks prior to adding Saturn Ions to the recall) with defective ignition switches but allowed dangerous Ions with the same defect to stay on the roads. GM knew about the deadly defect since 2003 and the company had meetings regarding the defect in May of 2009 (just two weeks prior to filing for bankruptcy) and again in 2011 (confirming that “New” GM was aware of the issue).

The cost for the repair for the defective ignition was minimal. According to my sources, the cost to replace the defective steering components in Saturn Ions that have been left on the roads is about $1,500 per vehicle. Assuming that figure is close to being accurate, multiplying that cost by the approximate 400,000 vehicles that need to be recalled gets you a repair bill of over half a billion dollars for GM.

It is obvious that there is a problem with the Saturn Ions in question. NHTSA admits that they received 846 complaints and 3,489 reports from owners of the vehicles stating that they have experienced a sudden loss of power steering while driving the vehicles. If the power steering problem was severe enough to recall similar vehicles with the same defect, why does GM continue to stonewall and refuse to recall the rest of the defective vehicles?

The GM response on the ignition recall and the power steering defect is eerily similar. Chevy Cobalts get recalled while Saturn Ions with the same dangerous defects are left on the roads. While GM tries to appear compassionate and caring, their actions speak otherwise. It is only when media attention exposed GM’s unethical behavior that the company recalled Saturn Ions with the ignition defects. Now, the company still has not recalled the Saturn Ions for the other defect; the same power steering defect that other vehicles were recalled for four years ago!

Regarding GM’s deadly botched ignition recall, Mary Barra has stated that GM “…will take every step we can to make sure this never happens again.” We are now only a week or so past when that statement was made and it certainly seems that GM is letting “this” happen again. I assume that by “this” happening again Ms. Barra means sacrificing the safety of lives to benefit corporate profits when they do not recall vehicles that they know have dangerous defects. So, Ms. Barra, we ask again. Please recall the Saturn Ions that have a power steering defect which prompted GM to recall vehicles with the same defect four years ago.

Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.