THE GM RECALL

GM, with ignition parts shipped, must now find recalled cars' owners

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DETROIT -- General Motors has passed a significant milestone in its campaign to replace potentially defective ignition switches in 2.6 million cars recalled worldwide: It cleared its backlog of parts orders.

For months, GM dealers have watched parts trickle in as they packed their lots with recalled cars and put customers up in loaners. But this week, the number of replacement kits shipped by GM to U.S. dealerships hit about 1.2 million, enough to satisfy every owner who has ordered the repair.

“There’s no reason why any vehicle on this recall is not able to be repaired quickly at this point,” Tim Turvey, GM’s vice president of North American customer care and aftersales, told Automotive News earlier this week.

Now comes another tough task: Finding the roughly 1 million U.S. owners of Chevy Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other older small cars covered by the recall who haven’t contacted a dealership to replace the flawed ignition switch, which GM has linked to 13 deaths and 54 crashes.

Now that the assembly lines that were hastily fired up at a GM supplier plant in Mexico this spring have caught up to demand, GM’s ignition switch recall is entering a new phase. Even as GM cranks out the remaining 1 million repair kits, it will be up to dealers to help the company locate vehicle owners while keeping their service bays humming.

GM and its dealerships are sifting through customer databases, often searching for the third or fourth owner of a given car. GM has worked with a unit of IHS Automotive, formerly Polk, to analyze registration data, Turvey said.

“We’re trying to find a valid email, mailing address, phone number -- whatever we can to reach out to these owners,” Turvey said.

GM this month began mailing letters from CEO Mary Barra to all known owners of affected cars, including those who have ordered parts but not completed the repairs. Owners who haven’t begun the process are being sent an insert as well that details the steps they should take to request a fix.

Destroying old parts

Meanwhile, GM is taking steps to destroy ignition switches from scrapped cars to make sure they don’t re-enter the supply stream as spare parts. For example, it has purchased “mass quantities” of old steering columns from LKQ Corp., a large spare-parts supplier to the aftermarket, to retrieve and destroy potentially defective switches, Turvey said. GM also has contracted with third-party companies to track down switches from salvage yards for disposal, he said.

“We’ve used some extraordinary tactics that we’ve never deployed before,” Turvey said.

Todd McCallum, fixed-operations director at LaFontaine Automotive Group, which sells Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC vehicles across three stores in the Detroit area, said the dealerships have been scheduling occasional “recall nights” for customers to get their ignition-switch repairs, sometimes after 9 p.m.

“We’re fixing a lot more cars now, and the process is moving much more smoothly,” he said. He estimated that LaFontaine has fixed several hundred of the recalled cars. The wait from when a part is ordered until it arrives at the dealership has been cut to about a week from as long as 90 days in the spring, he said.

As of Aug. 16, GM dealerships had repaired 806,640 of the recalled vehicles.

Turvey says GM will produce the remaining 1 million or so repair kits regardless of whether all of the owners come forward. The company is required to do so by its May consent decree with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which fined GM $35 million — the maximum allowable — for waiting too long to recall the cars.

You can reach Mike Colias at mcolias@crain.com.

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