Despite having received thousands of consumer complaints for power steering problems and over 30,000 of warranty repair claims, the General Motors (GM) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) didn't immediately seek for a recall of the Saturn Ion compact car and many others, government documents released on Saturday revealed.
Apart from the Saturn Ion 2004-2007 models, other vehicles ordered for recall are Chevrolet/Cobalt/2010, Chevrolet/HHR/2009-2010, Chevrolet/Malibu/2004-2006, 2008-2009, Chevrolet/Malibu Maxx/2004-2006, Pontiac/G6/2005-2006, 2008-2009 and Saturn/Aura/2008-2009.
For GM, it took years before they issued a recall, regardless of knowing about the ignition-switch problem for over a decade. It only recalled this February. It admitted knowing of the 13 deaths in car crashes brought about by the ignition switches problem. Crash victims, however, said the number of deaths is much more.
Meanwhile, the NHTSA, which is the auto-safety watchdog of the government, opened an investigation over two years ago and discovered 12 vehicle crashes and two injuries caused by the car issues but didn't pursue a recall.
GM acknowledged of not having done enough to address the problem, but with its recent recall, the NHTSA decided to close the investigation. A recall can be instigated by either the automaker or be demanded by the government.
In a letter to addressed to director Carmen Benavides of Product Investigations of GM, chief Jennifer Timian of the Recall Management Division Office of Defects Investigations of the NHTSA detailed the problem of the vehicles and consequences.
"In the affected vehicles, there may be a sudden loss of electric power steering (EPS) assist that could occur at any time while driving," Timian wrote in the letter.
"If power steering assist is lost, greater driver effort would be required to steer the vehicle at low speeds, increasing the risk of a crash," she added.
Reports said the database of the agency reveals that owners of Ion vehicles began their complaints of power-steering problems in June 2004.
Report of first accident to NHTSA came in May 2007. The 2004 Ion car owner narrated driving the car at 25mph and about to turn the steering wheel until it suddenly locked. The car, according to the complaint, crashed into a tree.
"Saturn stated the vehicle is not a defect," said the complaint.
Lawmakers such as Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo questioned the ability of the NHTSA to do its responsibility and said that she will pursue aggressively such issues as the congressional investigation of the said case continues.
NHTSA, on the other hand, defended its actions on Saturday and said that the agency was in the process of finding resolution to the problem when the GM finally issued a recall.