Saturn Ion owner Nancy Bowman of Washington, Michigan, said she is
outraged that GM allowed her to drive a "death trap." She said her
car had so many ignition problems she was afraid to resell it to an
She bought the 2004 model car new and still drives it after
extensive repairs and multiple run-ins with a Saturn dealer she
"Five times the car died right out from under me after hitting a
bump in the road," she wrote in a 2013 posting on a complaint
website, arfc.org, that says it sends information to the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
"Every time I brought it in they said it was an isolated incident.
Couldn't find the problem, so they acted like I was an idiot."
GM recalled 1.6 million cars last month because a faulty ignition
switch could turn off a car's engine, disable its airbags and make
steering difficult. The recall involves six models from years
ranging from 2003 to 2007. The problem has been linked to 12 deaths,
the company says.
Documents released by GM this week revealed that the automaker knew
about the ignition problem as early as 2001. Auto safety advocates
say GM should have ordered a recall years ago, and GM has apologized
as investigations by government agencies, Congress and the company
itself have multiplied.
Angry customers are taking to social media to vent their
frustrations. GM's company Facebook "fan page" is scattered with
complaints amid enthusiasts' comments and the company's updates on
its activities. Comments on one post this week featuring a photo of
a proud owner and his "Chevy Family" of three cars included
sarcastic references about the recall.
The financial costs of the recall and GM's legal liability are still
Under terms of its 2009 bankruptcy, the "new" GM is not responsible
for any legal claims relating to incidents that took place before
July 2009. But GM is facing pressure from some consumer groups that
say the arrangement would be unfair to victims and want the
automaker to establish a trust fund to pay compensation.
Since the recall, GM has said its customers' safety and satisfaction
are top priorities.
"We are deeply sorry to our customers and for the circumstances
surrounding this recall. We are doing all we can today to take care
of our customers and to ensure their peace of mind," GM spokesman
Greg Martin said.
GM North America President Alan Batey acknowledged last month that
the length of time between the first reports of a possible defect
and the recall announcement "shows that the process employed to
examine this phenomenon was not as robust as it should have been."
The company's long silence has outraged those who endured poor
service or worse.
Megan Phillips, who was the driver of a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt that
crashed in Wisconsin, said that until last month's recall she blamed
herself for a 2006 accident in which two teenaged friends were
killed when her car left the road and hit a clump of trees.
Accident investigators hired by the NHTSA found that the key had
moved to the "accessory" rather than the "run" position, turning off
the engine and disabling the airbags before impact. None of the
girls wore seatbelts.
Phillips, 24, said that the families of her deceased friends blamed
her for the crash and would not talk to her. Since the recall,
Phillips said, they have begun communicating.
"I don't have the answer for them. GM has the answer for them," she
[to top of second column]
Phillips said she does not understand why GM did not order a recall
"I don't understand why they would wait 10 years to say something.
And I want to understand it but I never will."
As part of the recall, the automaker has offered $500 to owners
toward buying or leasing another GM car. The recall involves
2005-2007 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 compact cars, 2003-2007
Saturn Ion compact cars, 2006-2007 Chevy HHR midsized cars, and
2006-2007 Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky sports cars.
Mike Andrews, an attorney with the Alabama firm Beasley Allen, which
is weighing possible recall-related lawsuits, called GM's response
"They've known about this for years, and their response is $500,"
Even after repairs, GM warns customers to use only the key and fob
on the key ring. The weight on the key is believed to be one of the
causes of the ignition jarring out of the "run" position.
The NHTSA has opened a probe into the timing of the recall, and two
congressional committees plan to hold hearings. The FBI and the U.S.
attorney in Manhattan are also investigating.
GM has said it is fully cooperating.
GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra, an engineer who took the job
in January, has apologized publicly and started an internal
Fitch Ratings said in a note on Friday that the recall and federal
probe may pose a risk to GM's reputation but are not likely to be a
financial burden. Fitch said lawsuits could pose more of a problem
Attorney Robert Hilliard of the Texas firm Hilliard Munoz Gonzales,
who is representing Phillips and other families of victims in the
Wisconsin crash, said GM owners now contacting him are angered by
"the insidiousness of hiding the defect."
"We're developing coalitions and associations to help in this
battle," he said.
A proposed class-action lawsuit was filed against GM in federal
court in Texas on Friday. It claims GM knew about the problem since
2004 but failed to fix it, creating "unreasonably dangerous"
conditions for drivers of the affected models.
Dennis Hillstead, a former St. Croix County sheriff who investigated
the Phillips accident, said it appears "someone dropped the ball" on
alerting the public.
"It's a sad commentary, perhaps, on large corporations that fail to
take the public's well-being into consideration when making their
decisions," he said.
(Reporting by Eric Beech; additional reporting by Marilyn W.
Thompson in Washington and Jessica Dye in New York, editing by Peter
Henderson and Lisa Shumaker)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.