GM tells NHTSA Silverado, Sierra glitch 'inconsequential'

General Motors says the glitch covers 200,921 2014 Silverado and Sierra trucks.
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General Motors is seeking federal regulators' permission to not recall more than 200,000 new Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups because of an electronic defect that can be triggered by using the steering wheel controls.

When a driver uses the steering wheel controls to browse and select songs to play from an external device, such as an MP3 player that is plugged into a USB port, the instrument cluster may reset, GM said.

The company said the glitch covers 200,921 2014 Silverado and Sierra trucks built between Jan. 29 and Oct. 28, 2013.

In a petition filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Oct. 31, GM said it should be exempt from the agency's notification and remedy requirements because the problem was inconsequential to vehicle safety. The Detroit News reported on the petition on Monday.

GM said the glitch may cause the instrument clusters to reset and shift position and cruise control indicators to briefly turn off. But the problem occurs only if the driver uses the steering wheel controls "in a very specific way" to browse or select songs from a device plugged into the vehicle's USB port, GM said.

In order for the problem to occur, drivers must:

1. Search for a particular song by pressing the left arrow on the right spoke of the steering wheel

2. Select "audio" using the steering wheel controls

3. Select "browse" using the steering wheel controls

4. Scroll to a particular song using the steering wheel controls

5. Select the song to play

At this point, operation remains normal. If the driver then selects "browse" using the steering wheel controls to select a second song, the glitch may occur, but only if the total information in titles of the buffered songs exceeds 2,000 bytes.

When the instrument cluster resets, the shift position indicator and the cruise control indicator turn off for one and a half seconds, and a check of indicator lights is triggered, which lasts for about five seconds, GM said.

"This momentary condition would be a clear indication to the driver that service may be required," GM spokesman Alan Adler said.

The glitch will not occur if the center cluster controls are used, GM said.

GM has acknowledged that the vehicles did not fully meet two safety standards, Adler said, but "the condition is extremely unlikely and has little effect on the normal operation of the vehicle."

GM said it was aware of only two incidents involving the defect, and both occurred in test vehicle fleets.

The automaker said it checked all warranty claims on the potentially affected vehicles and found no complaints related to the glitch.

"The subject vehicles in the field are likely to have accrued over 106 million miles with no field reports of the noncompliant condition," GM said.

GM said it is unaware of any complaints to NHTSA about the condition.

The company referred to a NHTSA response to a letter from Ford Motor Co. dated May 23, 1979. In the response, the agency recognized that a short-lived inability to view indicator lights does not necessarily warrant manufacturers correcting the condition, GM said.

NHTSA calls it an "inconsequential noncompliance," and has excused automakers for a minor deviation from U.S. safety standards.

Last spring, the agency excused Ford for selling cars with a government-mandated window glazing symbol on the top of the windshield rather than on the bottom. If Ford's petition had been denied, the automaker might have been obligated to replace 15,663 windshield units in the 2010 Ford Taurus and 3,565 units in the 2010 Lincoln MKT.

Based on the precedents, GM said it does not believe a recall is warranted.

"We have a defect, but do not believe it impacts safety," Adler said.

Last month, GM also filed a petition asking federal regulators to excuse a manufacturing glitch involving the function of head restraints in certain 2013 Chevrolet Cruze, Chevrolet Volt, and Buick Verano that did not meet federal standards.

The automaker corrected the problem to ensure future production of the vehicles.

NHTSA hasn't ruled on either petition, and the current request is open to public discussion until March 26.

You can reach Andrew Thurlow at athurlow@crain.com.

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