A General Motors (GM) employee whose 2006 Chevy Impala suddenly stalled as she drove onto a gravel surface from a paved road warned company officials that GM should issue a “big recall” to fix an ignition switch defect that went unheeded for several more years.
According to GM’s internal emails made public on Wednesday, GM employee Laura Andres sent an email to company engineers in 2005 documenting her own experience with a sudden stall. Ms. Andres said in the email that a technician who examined her Impala said the car’s ignition switch may have been at fault.
“I think this is a serious safety problem, especially if this switch is on multiple programs. I’m thinking big recall,” Ms. Andres said in her email, which she sent to GM’s vice president of engineering in North America and 11 other GM officials.
The Impala, however, was never recalled until the Monday before the hearing Wednesday, part of an additional recall of 3.36 million GM vehicles for ignition switch problems. A New York Times analysis found that drivers first started complaining to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about the problem in Impalas as early as December 2000.
“Complete electrical system and engine shutdown while driving,” said one Impala driver in a 2001 complaint. “Happened three different times to date. Dealer is unable to determine cause of failure.”
Incredibly, despite all the red flags, GM officials failed to take action.
“This latest recall appears to follow the same disturbing pattern as the Cobalt breakdown,” House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton said about the email exchange triggered by Ms. Andre’s warning. Mr. Upton was referring to a company culture marked by incompetence and neglect, which the Valukas report concluded was largely to blame for GM’s inaction.
GM has issued a record 44 recalls this year, probably because it failed to address serious problems in years past. The automaker has so far this year recalled 20 million vehicles worldwide, 6.5 million of which have been recalled for defects related to the ignition switch.