GM: 140,000 owners of recalled vehicles can't be reached

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DETROIT -- General Motors says it hasn’t been able to reach nearly 140,000 owners of the Chevrolet Cobalt and other small cars it has recalled for faulty ignition switches, highlighting the challenge it faces in trying to track down vehicles that have likely changed hands several times over the years.

GM, in a filing with federal safety regulators, said about 6 percent of the 2.2 million recall notices it mailed to U.S. residents were returned as undeliverable. It said it doesn’t know who owns 18 of the cars.

The filing, dated July 25, provided progress updates on 46 recalls GM has initiated since 2012, including 22 of the record 60 campaigns the company has announced so far this year.

The number of undeliverable notices for all of the other recalls listed is much smaller -- generally a few dozen to several thousand. Only 1 percent of notices for an airbag recall of 1.2 million large crossovers were returned, and just 10 notices out of more than 50,000 sent to owners of a 2013 Cadillac SRX were undeliverable.

Under the terms of a consent order that U.S. regulators reached with GM in May, the company agreed to take steps to maximize the number of owners affected by the ignition recall who get their car repaired.

GM has to maintain a Web site with up-to-date information about the recall, reach out to non-English speakers and use a variety of methods to communicate with owners, including "new and traditional media."

In addition to the quarterly progress reports that all automakers must submit about recalls, GM has to file biweekly updates on the status of repairs through November.

GM said on its Web site dedicated to the ignition-switch recall that dealerships had replaced 693,056 switches as of Monday, or 27 percent of the 2.6 million cars covered by the recall globally. Two weeks earlier, the number of vehicles recalled stood at 549,628, meaning dealerships have been fixing about 10,000 vehicles a day.

GM’s supplier, Delphi Automotive, has said it expects to ship 2 million of the switches by the end of this month, and GM has said it will have enough parts to perform the majority of repairs by October.

But delivering the recall notices to customers is a big part of getting as many owners as possible to bring their car in for the repair. GM knows that a portion of the cars have been scrapped -- data from R.L. Polk indicate that scrappage rates for cars that are as old as those being recalled range from 7 percent to 18 percent -- though it did not disclose a number under “vehicles scrapped” in the July 25 filing.

The filing shows that more than half of the vehicles covered by 12 recalls issued this year already have been repaired or inspected. Five of those recalls affect fewer than 1,000 vehicles, but one covers nearly 500,000 full-sized pickups and SUVs with transmission oil cooler lines that may not be securely fitted.

For that recall, GM said it mailed notices on May 19 and that dealerships had inspected more than 365,000 of the vehicles as of June 30. Only about 11,000 of those inspected were found to need a repair.

GM ran into another problem related to recall notifications last week, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the automaker’s Web site provided incorrect information when some customers used their vehicle identification number to search for any outstanding recalls. The site was not showing some recalls that had been announced but for which parts were not available yet.

GM said it expected the site to be corrected sometime this week but that customers could call its customer-service numbers for the most up-to-date information.

You can reach Nick Bunkley at nbunkley@crain.com. -- Follow Nick on Twitter

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