Workers carry out a final inspection of a Saturn Ion at a GM plant in 2004. The model is at the center of a new safety recall over power steering problems.
General Motors delayed a safety recall of more than 330,000 Saturn cars that have been found to have defective power steering systems, newly released federal documents show. The records also show federal regulators didn't demand a recall of the cars, despite thousands of complaints about them.
The cars' problem is described as "a sudden loss of electric power steering (EPS) assist that could occur at any time while driving" by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Some drivers have complained that those failings came at dangerous times, such as mid-way through a turn.
As NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports, news of the recall comes after recent criticisms of GM's delayed response to faulty ignition switches that have been blamed for more than a dozen deaths. Here's a report Hansi filed for our Newscast desk today:
"It took General Motors more than a decade to warn the public that more than 2.6 million of its cars had faulty ignition switches.
"Now documents posted on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's website show that GM also waited years to recall more than 300,000 Saturn Ions for power steering failure — despite receiving thousands of consumer complaints and claims for warranty repairs.
"The documents also show that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation about the defective power steering systems more than two years ago.
"But the government regulator did not seek a recall, after finding the problem caused a dozen crashes and two injuries."
GM will issue four service bulletins about the problems in the Saturn and other cars, NHTSA says, with other models ranging from the 2004 Chevrolet Malibu to the 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt.
"NHTSA said almost 1 in 11 Ions reported warranty problems for steering — a very high number," reports The Detroit News.
The carmaker will notify owners of the cars in question later this month. Parts to repair the problem aren't currently available; when they are, the car owners will get a second notification letter telling them to bring their car in for repair.
Here's the full list of affected models, from the agency's recent letter to GM confirming the safety recall:
- CHEVROLET/MALIBU/2004-2006, 2008-2009
- CHEVROLET/MALIBU MAXX/2004-2006
- PONTIAC/G6/2005-2006, 2008-2009
The Detroit News adds that according to a 2011 email released by a House committee, new GM CEO Mary Barra, who then headed the global product development division, "had been notified of the steering problem and another company official told her that the 'Ion data did not justify being included' in the recall."
Barra recently faced a grilling on Capitol Hill over how GM handled the ignition switch recall.
"This raises more troubling concerns about GM's and NHTSA's actions as well as questions about whether NHTSA has the capability to effectively do its job," Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., tells the AP. "I intend to aggressively pursue these issues as our congressional investigation into GM and NHTSA continues."