According to the Associated Press, GM will need over 9 million parts to repair millions of cars it has recalled. With parts slowly arriving at dealers, frustrated drivers are forced to wait weeks or months while driving cars they fear are unsafe.
GM says it will take six months to make and distribute all the parts for the largest recall: 2.6 million small cars with faulty ignition switches that the company links to 13 deaths. The switches, mainly in older Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions, can slip out of the “run” position into “accessory,” shutting off engines and disabling power-assisted steering and air bags. GM has told dealers to offer concerned owners a loaner car while they wait for parts. Those cars also need to have a second part replaced.
Owners of all car brands might watch the mail for more notices. GM rival Toyota, which itself recently ordered recalls of millions of vehicles, expects automakers to be more proactive in bringing cars in for repairs.
At least initially, the GM ignition switch recall didn’t go smoothly. “This is a big ol’ hot mess,” said Blair Parker, a Houston-area attorney who owns a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt included in the switch recall. Her dealer can’t tell her exactly when parts will arrive.
A few months ago, Parker’s car engine shut off unexpectedly when she hit the keys with her hand, an incident she had chalked up to user error. Now she worries the Cobalt’s switch is defective, and is driving a loaner car.
“We just decided it wasn’t worth the risk,” she said. After the switch recall, GM conducted a review that turned up 4 million more vehicles with problems, including faulty power steering motors, transmission oil leaks, defective drive shafts and air bag troubles. About 500,000 of them only need a fitting to be tightened and don’t need parts.
Dave Closs, chairman of the Supply Chain Management Department at Michigan State University, says GM dealers will have frustrated customers on their hands for a while. Parts makers have to find factory space and workers to ramp up assembly lines. GM said Delphi Automotive PLC has one line working seven days per week to make ignition switches and it’s setting up two more. Finished parts must then be inspected for quality. After that comes shipping, a costly and slow process, Closs says. “You’re shipping relatively small shipments all over the world,” he says.
Toyota is in a similar situation. Last month it announced recalls totaling 6.4 million vehicles to fix defective seats and bad air bag wiring. Bob Carter, Toyota’s U.S. automotive operations chief, says car owners can expect more frequent recalls because the regulatory and competitive environments have changed. Instead of recalling cars for known defects, companies are now “recalling vehicles to change problems that we anticipate might happen,” Carter says.