It’s been GM’s horrible year. Not only is the nation’s No. 1 automaker responsible for the lion’s share of vehicle recalls in a record year, but it also has had to announce a recall for nearly every model that it makes.
Of its key models, only three of more than three dozen haven’t required the automaker to tell customers to bring the cars to dealers for work, a search of General Motors and federal recall records by TheDetroitBureau.com shows.
The only key models not among the list of 54 recalls this year are:
- Chevrolet Equinox crossover;
- GMC Terrain, which shares the same basic crossover platform; and
- Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid.
A few product variants, such as the battery-electric version of the Chevy Spark minicar, also have been exempt so far.
GM told TheDetroitbureau.com that it is “aggressively reviewing product issues and will not hesitate to conduct a recall if it is determined to be the right thing for customers. We have changed our safety review processes and added 35 investigators so we can move more quickly to address issues as they arise."
GM’s recall numbers are daunting: 54 separate recalls in just six months affecting nearly 26 million vehicles sold in the U.S., nearly 29 million worldwide. That works out to one separate recall nearly every three days. GM has a record for any individual manufacturer, and has pushed the overall U.S. auto industry to an all-time record, with manufacturers collectively recalling about 39 million vehicles in just six months, 20 percent more than the previous peak for all of 2014.
When GM’s recall frenzy began in mid-February, with the first recall related to faulty ignition switches, senior executives including CEO Mary Barra were quick to point out that the problems were largely focused on products built by the “Old GM,” before the maker’s 2009 bankruptcy, such as the now abandoned Chevrolet Cobalt. If anything, newer models, such as the 2014 Chevy Impala, they stressed, were winning rave reviews and endorsements from the likes of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
While the ongoing recalls continue to sweep up older products — including this week’s callback of 8.4 million vehicles worldwide dating back to 1997 for “unintended ignition key rotation” — a growing number of new models are also being targeted.
A preliminary search indicates that no other major manufacturer has come close to the product-line breadth that GM has experienced with its recalls in 2014. Toyota likely came closest in 2010 when it recalled a wide array of products for a series of issues ranging from faulty airbags to excess corrosion to unintended acceleration.
GM estimates the recalls will cost it $2.5 billion for the first half of this year. It has also set up a compensation fund related to the ignition switch defect and will offer at least $1 million to families of crash victims.
What has most surprised industry observers is the apparent lack of impact that GM’s recall problems have so far had on the maker. They had expected GM to report a sales decline of at least 1 percent for June, but sales actually rose 1 percent over year-earlier numbers.
Generally favorable reviews for products such as the Chevy Impala, Corvette and Silverado pickup — voted North American Car and Truck of the Year for 2014 — appear to be comforting shoppers who might otherwise steer clear of GM’s four U.S. brands.
If anything, analyst Dave Sullivan of AutoPacific Inc. says he sees a positive side to the maker’s switch from stonewalling on recalls to ordering callbacks even before it faces pressure from regulators.
“I like the fact that they’re saying they’re not going to wait,” said Sullivan. “If anything, they’re recalling things even before there’s a statistical trend. They’re starting fresh.”
Whether GM continues the recall pace during the second half of the year remains to be seen. But Barra was proven wrong when she suggested, more than a month ago, that the worst was over. June alone brought the recall of roughly 12 million vehicles in the U.S.
And eventually, warned Anthony Johndrow, a managing partner with New York’s Reputation Institute, that is bound to have an impact, the “death-of-a-thousand-cuts” syndrome.
One of the other concerns is whether GM owners might be experiencing so-called “recall fatigue.” The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that only 70 percent of vehicle owners, on average, bring their cars, trucks or crossovers in for the required fixes. If the same holds true, that means nearly 8 million of the GM vehicles covered by U.S. recalls this year could potentially go unrepaired.
“That’s a significant number of vehicles on the road, and whether or not you own one you’ll be driving next to one,” said analyst Sullivan. “That’s an alarming thought.”
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