DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – General Motors is recalling almost 780,000 older-model compact cars in North America because a faulty ignition switch can shut off the engines without warning and cause crashes. The company says the weight of heavy key rings combined with bumpy roads can move the ignition to the off position.
“It is very serious, very unusual, too,” said WWJ Analyst John McElroy. “I’ve never heard of a problem like this before.”
General Motors says there have been 22 crashes, mostly at high speed, with six fatalities. The problem is compounded because when the vehicle is turned off, the airbags don’t deploy.
“It’s very often simple things that cause problems in cars like this,” said Kelley Blue Book analyst Karl Brauer.
In the 2010 sudden acceleration recall of Toyota vehicles, an extensive investigation showed no problems with the vehicles high tech electronics, with that particular problem caused by pedals becoming trapped under floor mats.
“You know it’s much more interesting and and kind of mysterious to look for ghosts in the machine,” said Brauer. “But, the truth is it’s usually something like a plastic lining, or a rubber seal or in this case, literally the weight of they key pushing down too much on the ignition switch on the steering column.”
IN this current recall, GM says the six people were killed in five front-end crashes, all of which happened off-road and at high speeds. In each case, the ignition switch moved out of the run position, shutting off the engine and electrical power, spokesman Alan Adler said. That condition would cause the loss of equipment such as power steering assist and power-assisted brakes, he said.
Alcohol was involved in three of the fatalities, and in some cases people weren’t wearing seat belts, Adler said.
Dealers will replace the ignition switch for free, but the timing of the recall hasn’t been finalized. Until the problem is fixed, GM is urging owners to remove nonessential items from key rings.
More than 619,000 of the cars in the recall were sold in the U.S., with another 153,000 in Canada and more than 6,000 in Mexico, according to the company. All but 33,000 of the cars to be recalled are Cobalts. The Pontiac G5 is nearly identical to the Cobalt.
“It can be a very simple thing that causes a major problem,” said LMC Automotive Analyst Jeff Schuster. “Clearly, we’ll see a lot more scrutiny to even the smallest of parts going forward.”
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WWJ AutoBeat Reporter Jeff Gilbert contributed to this story.