Did GM Know About Faulty Switch 10 Years Ago?

Amid a rising death toll, General Motors announced Tuesday it would expand an ongoing recall associated with a defective ignition switch to include 1,367,146 cars in North America.

GM said in a written statement it now knows of 13 deaths and 31 crashes linked to the defect, in which the ignition switch inadvertently moves to the "off" position and turns off the engine. Many electrical components in vehicles then wouldn't work, including airbags, which wouldn't deploy in crashes.

When the Detroit-based automaker first announced last month that it would recall more than a half-million Chevrolet Cobalts and Pontiac G5 vehicles, it said it knew of six deaths and 22 crashes related to the problem, which is exacerbated by heavy keychains that tug the switch out of position.

Four vehicles added to the recall Tuesday include: Saturn Ions manufactured between 2003 and 2007, and models of the Chevrolet HHR, Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky made in the 2006 and 2007 model years.

In a written statement, General Motors acknowledged it had known about the issue for a decade, yet did not issue a related recall until February.

"The chronology shows that the process employed to examine this phenomenon was not as robust as it should have been," Alan Batey, GM's North American president, said in a written statement. "Today's GM is committed to doing business differently and better. We will take an unflinching look at what happened and apply lessons learned here to improve going forward."

A company spokesperson did not return a phone call late Tuesday afternoon, and it was unclear why the company recalled some models and not others last month.

GM said it is working with suppliers to expedite the shipment of replacement parts. Car owners will be notified via mail if their vehicle is covered by the recall. Until the cars are fixed, GM says drivers should place nothing else on their keychains.

Industry analysts say the deadly problem and delayed response is reminiscent of Toyota's handling its problem with cars that suddenly accelerated.

'If GM can take any learning from Toyota, it would be to expect short-term repercussion in the form of lost consumer confidence, and declines in perceived quality and safety," said Arthur Henry, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book. "Toyota has shown that a brand can recover from an incident like this, and what may help GM is the fact the majority of the models recalled are discontinued. This may dissolve any negative projection toward its new products."

Pete Bigelow is an associate editor at AOL Autos. He can be reached via email at peter.bigelow@teamaol.com and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.

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