DETROIT -- A federal judge in Texas today declined to issue an emergency order forcing General Motors to tell owners of 2.6 million recalled cars to stop driving them immediately. A ruling on the matter could come next week instead.
GM told the court that it has conducted more than 80 tests showing that the cars it is recalling for faulty ignition switches are still safe to drive, so long as nothing else is attached to the ignition key. GM CEO Mary Barra told a Senate subcommittee this week that she would allow her teenage son to drive one of the cars before it is repaired.
But pressure has been growing on GM to ground the cars. Texas lawyer Robert Hilliard last week first asked U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos to make the automaker issue a “park it now” alert. In a court filing Friday, Hilliard cited accounts by three GM customers saying their cars stalled even after following the instructions in the automaker’s recall notices.
“Fearing that my car could turn off at any moment, I constantly checked my ignition and key while driving,” Devora Kelley, a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against GM in California, said in a declaration Hilliard filed with the court. “At least 5 times since receiving the recall notice, and even with no extra weight on the key ring, the ignition switch in my Cobalt moved from the “run” position toward “accessory” while I was driving.
Ramos at a hearing in Corpus Christi, Texas, said she would need more time to study briefs submitted by attorneys for two owners of a recalled GM car and receive documents from the carmaker's lawyers.
A “park it now” order could create a logistical challenge for GM, which has offered free loaner vehicles to customers who say they’re afraid of driving the recalled cars before repairs are performed. GM said the company had provided 13,000 loaner vehicles to customers as of Tuesday. Dealers say they already are having trouble arranging loaners for customers who have requested one.
"My biggest fear over this is that we won't be able to get all of these customers into loaners," said Jason Hachmeister, co-owner of Sterling Chevrolet in Sterling, Ill.
As of Thursday morning, seven Cobalt and HHR owners had dropped off their cars at the dealership. Two of them were put in cars from the dealership's 13-vehicle fleet; the other five were sent to Enterprise. GM will cover customers' cost for the rentals.
GM has said dealerships will be able to begin making repairs on Monday but that it will take about six months to have enough parts to fix all of the cars.
During Wednesday’s Senate hearing on the GM recall, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., pressed Barra on how much evidence it would take to convince the automaker that the affected cars should be parked immediately.
She said testing on various types of terrain at GM’s proving grounds in Milford, Mich., has given the company confidence that “this phenomenon that causes these issues will not occur” when nothing is attached to the ignition key.
“Senator, if I had any data, any incidents where with just the key, or the key and the ring, there was any risk, I would ground these vehicles across the country,” Barra said.
GM on Wednesday filed an affidavit from Antonio Antonucci, an engineer in its Field Performance Assessment department, detailing the testing used to reach that conclusion. The document says hundreds of tests were performed using various items and amounts of weight attached to the ignition key.