DETROIT - Fourteen months after General Motors (GM) started recalling more than 2 million small cars with faulty ignition switches worldwide, the company says it has repaired about 70 percent of the vehicles that are still on the road.
The figures, which GM says are current as of Thursday, show that the switch replacements are now running at about the same pace as the average recall in the U.S. for a similar time frame.
GM has fixed 1.6 million of the roughly 2.3 million recalled cars worldwide that are registered and still in use, spokesman Alan Adler said Friday. In the U.S., the completion rate is almost 71 percent. The average completion rate 1 1/2 years after a recall begins is 75 percent, according to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
GM started recalling the cars in February of last year and acknowledged that it knew of the deadly problem for more than a decade, yet waited years to take recall action. The switches can slip out of the run position and cause the engines to stall, knocking out air bags and power steering and brakes. This has led to crashes that caused at least 80 deaths and nearly 150 injuries in the U.S. alone.
GM was fined $35 million by the government for delays in reporting the problem as required by law.
In the months after the recalls began, GM was criticized by customers and members of Congress for a low completion rate, which the company blamed on a lack of parts. The switches, in cars such as the 2005 to 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt, were not being produced at the time in large numbers, so parts supplier Delphi (DLPH). had to crank up assembly lines. It took several months for the switches to start arriving in great numbers at dealerships, which weren't fully supplied until October.
GM then used phone calls from dealers, Facebook (FB) messages and personal letters from CEO Mary Barra in an effort to get people to take their cars to dealers for repairs.
Also Friday, GM drew some rare praise from new NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. At a speech in New York, Rosekind lauded the company for putting in place procedures to make sure dealers don't sell new cars unless recall repairs have been made. Such sales of new cars would violate federal laws, but used cars can legally be sold with open recalls.
After a Chevrolet dealer near Philadelphia was fined $50,000 last fall by NHTSA for selling new vehicles without making recall fixes, GM checked its dealer network and made changes in its computer inventory to prevent the problem from happening again, Rosekind said.
Now the systems notify dealers if they have a car on their lot with an unrepaired recall and tell them how much GM will pay to get the problem fixed, he said. The system also won't let dealers submit requests for company rebates and other incentives until the recall work is done, he said.
"All other manufacturers and dealers should embrace the proactive approach that GM is taking," Rosekind said.
In March, ABC News bought a new pickup truck with unfixed recall repairs from a New Jersey Chevrolet dealer, even though the salesman told reporters the truck had no recalls.
Company spokeswoman Ryndee Carney said GM's system that blocks incentives is being put in place this month. It would prevent dealers from selling cars and trucks that need recall repairs, she said. Incentives can sometimes be in the thousands of dollars, so it makes no sense for dealers to sell vehicles without them.
"Until you go in and let us know you completed the recall repair, you won't be able to see if that vehicle qualifies for any sales incentives," she said.
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