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General Motors is recalling nearly 800,000 older compact cars due to an ignition key problem that the company acknowledges is linked to six deaths.
The recall covers Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 models sold in North America during model-years 2005 through 2007. According to GM, the weight of the key ring can inadvertently lead to the ignition switch moving out of the Run position when the vehicles are driven on rough roads. In such a situation, their airbags may not operate during a crash.
In all, GM reports there have been 22 separate accidents resulting from the problem, including five frontal impact crashes and six fatalities in which front airbags did not deploy. However, a GM spokesman also noted that in all the incidents resulting in death, the crashes occurred off-road and at high speeds, where fatal injuries might have occurred even if the airbags worked.
Alcohol use was involved in some of the fatal crashes, according to GM, while it appears some of the victims were not wearing seatbelts at the time.
GM says there were at least 17 additional, non-fatal crashes in which the airbags did not deploy.
Neither of the small car models are now being produced and the Pontiac division itself was abandoned during GM’s 2009 bankruptcy.
The maker is advising owners to remove non-essential keys and other items from their key rings until it can complete repairs on the 778,562 Chevy Cobalt and Pontiac G5 models involved in the recall. All were sold in North America -- 619,122 in the U.S., 153,310 in Canada and 6,130 in Mexico.
The maker plans to replace the ignition switch as part of the recall, with owners to receive advisories in the coming weeks. Repairs will be made at no charge.