By on March 2, 2010

We at TTAC, (well, me, only) have said that since everyone is raining a storm down on Toyota other recalls are slipping by without equal scrutiny. So when I read this article, I thought it fair, in the interests of journalism, to blog it. Not because of who it is, but the reasoning around it.

The BBC reports that General Motors are going to recall 1.3 million vehicles which are affected by the power steering problem which the NHTSA has been investigating. This problem has been linked to 14 crashes. The vehicles affected are the Chevrolet Cobalt, the Pontiac G5, Pontiac Pursuit and Pontiac 4. Some of these recalled cars were also sold in Canada and Mexico. The fault was that at low speeds, greater steering effort may be required but that the cars still could be “safely controlled” (try telling that to the 14 people who crashed). The steering part which failed, apparently, came from a supplier which is part owned by Toyota, but “Maximum” Bob Lutz, naturally, accepted the blame on behalf of GM. He said “This is a case where, yes, we would blame a partially Toyota-owned supplier.”. He went on to say that the supplier had not met “all requirements for reliability and durability”. Hang on a cotton picking minute…

Are you saying that GM didn’t supply a drawing and specification to the supplier? And if they didn’t, GM didn’t approve the supplier’s unit? Didn’t GM perform any quality control on the units delivered by the supplier? This sounds awfully like another company. GM’s Vice President of Quality, Jamie Hresko said (via Reuters) that ” After our in-depth investigation, we found that is a condition that takes time to develop. It tends to occur in older models out of warranty,”. While I’m not expecting a full congressional hearing or a suspension of sales of cars, it will be interesting to see if a similar amount of media scrutiny will ensue over this issue. Or will the press file this under “dog bites man”?

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38 Comments on “GM To Recall 1.3 Million Cobalt/G5s...”

  • avatar

    It’s got front-page billing on WSJ, WaPo, CNN, NYT, etc.

  • avatar

    Well at least they finally fessed up. (But of course blamed someone else.) Have they said what the fix is? Are they replacing the whole steering unit?

    • 0 avatar
      Cammy Corrigan

      According to what I’ve read, they’re working on a fix. I heard on Bloomberg that it may work out to be $80 per vehicle. Doesn’t sound like an overtly complicated fix they have in mind.

    • 0 avatar

      I only wonder cause when something is recalled, I just wonder if the part itself is shoddy in design or if it was a low quality materials problem or what.

  • avatar

    Does the SS SC/TC have the same steering system as the base, LS, and LT model? I know there are significant suspension differences between base and SS Cobalts, (I own an SS S/C) does that mean the steering system would also be different? and if so, which one is affected?

    • 0 avatar

      @Ott: I believe the recall is on the J-Tekt electric assisted units, the SS/SC would have it.

      As I’ve said before, now is the time for manufacturers to recall EVERYTHING. People are so weary of recalls right now, this one amounts to white noise, practically.

      Besides, GM has a long history of recalls, although not all recalls imply something seriously wrong. This one happens to be more critical than others, I’m glad they’re ‘doing the right thing’, in Toyota-speak.

  • avatar

    I hear the fix is a “precision-cut steel washer”.

    Man, I thinks I has to buy me some o’dat stock!

  • avatar

    When will the congression hearings be held?

  • avatar

    Over 100 hundred years building cars. Change you expected? Hardly.

  • avatar

    I guess they didn’t sell any to the Peoples Republic of China. So if we can’t measure how low Ed Whitacre has to bow. How will we ever get a read on GM’s remorse?

    On another note, the Toyota UIA fiasco, has opened the door.TTAC’s long standing policy of not reporting recalls? Is it wide open now?
    Will every recall of from every manufactor,be news here.

    Just thought I would ask.

    • 0 avatar
      Cammy Corrigan

      Mikey, while I don’t speak for TTAC as a whole, I reckon recalls will certainly make news if the manufacturer in question tries to absolve themselves of responsibility and blame someone else (i.e supplier). A la Toyota, A la GM.

    • 0 avatar

      On another note, the Toyota UIA fiasco, has opened the door.TTAC’s long standing policy of not reporting recalls? Is it wide open now?
      Read through our archives, and you’ll see that there is no consistent policy on recall reporting. Sometimes we cover ’em, sometimes we don’t. I know that’s not wildly satisfying for folks who believe in pure objectivity, but that’s the reality. We try to bring our readers the most interesting, provocative car news of the day, period. Full stop. I’d rather not make sweeping prejudgments of what we will or won’t cover.
      Besides, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with recalls… defects are a fact of life, and recalls are the appropriate response to them. Let’s not stigmatize them too much.

    • 0 avatar

      “period. Full stop.” Take the words and the symbols together and you get a “composite ellipsis”, cool Ed!

      Recalls are only a bad thing when they happen too slowly, or are inadequate in their remedy.

      And from a personal standpoint, although my latest assignment has been marketing, I’m still a safety engineer and recall-investigator in my bones … I like reading about recalls and seeing the posters reactions/commentary.

  • avatar

    Where I work (not in the auto industry), our purchasing department has been know to switch suppliers to save a few dollars and not get so much as a sample part for the new supplier. We don’t even do first article inspection unless the drawing specifically calls for it. Even then, we can’t count on it being done.

    Crap like that happens.

    • 0 avatar

      In the auto industry you have to submit PPAP (Pre-Production Approval Process) documentation along with your first sample parts, then the customer (OEM, Tier 1 or whatever) usually does extensive product validation testing prior to turning on a new supplier. The PPAP package includes full dimensional layout, material test results, etc. etc. If the customer is going to accept anything that doesn’t conform to the print they have to issue a signed deviation or revise the print. Either JTEKT wasn’t meeting the specifications or the specifications were inadequate. These things happen despite all the red tape.

  • avatar
    Tricky Dicky

    The supplier in question is JTEKT and Toyota is the majority shareholder with a stake of 22.54%. I wonder if Maximum Bob would accept having GM’s name dragged into the dirt if another OEM did a recall and claimed it was a Delphi part that had been shown to be problematic? I suspect he would be saying something very different. Opportunist: I think so.

  • avatar

    Actually I think the “similar amount of media scrutiny” questions may be unfair; but this depends on whether we are speaking of media or government scrutiny, and the dimension of the issue in comparison to Matgate and Pedalgate. (I don’t have a feel for this, but I bet somebody, somewhere, is already crunching the numbers and we will soon see comparative reports.)

    This story has been going on for between 6 months and a year already. It has been well reported already that GM was suing JTEKT for excessive warranty costs.

    Despite what some people think, not every last dimension, function, or characteristic is defined by an OEM buying a system from an “experienced and competent supplier (good enough for Toyota to both own parts of and buy part from)”; this is how the company is marketed), and the proove-out of a system by the OEM is usually more a vehicle-level based test (it would be fair to ask why faults were not discovered here) which relies heavily on the supplier’s bench tests and previous experience. Thus an OEM’s sign-off is not a supplier “get out of jail free card” in the event of a product problem in the field. In addition, suppliers are generally forced to agree to take a variable share of the responsibility for warranty costs exceeding a certain limit (this is variable depending, among other things, the cost risk, the potential financial risk to the supplier, and how badly the OEM wants the supplier.)

    So back to media exposure angle:
    – GM has been suing the supplier (JTEKT) because of it;
    – the issue has received quite a bit of media scrutiny because of this;
    – the issue came back into the limelight as Toyota’s troubles increased;
    – an investigation was opened;
    – now a recall;
    – the media’s scrutiny was driven in large part by Toyota’s sluggishness and the dramatic way in which some of these events ended (think Saylor, or the pond, or the tree incidents.)

    Regarding government scrutiny:
    – it is worth comparing, from the NHTSA database, on a proratia-basis, Toyota SUA reports vs Toyota EPAS reports vs GM EPAS reports (such a comparison would have to consider accidents, injuries/fatalities, failure and repair rates (this could be helped-out by OEM warranty data), and time-to-failure;
    – it is worth asking visavia NHTSA, GM and Toyota, what did each of these know and when did they know it, and what was the time lag between knowing and reporting (for GM and Toyota) and NHTSA (for investigating);

    If it turns out that JTEKT, or GM, or eventually Toyota, have been as sluggish in dealing with the steering issue, as Toyota has been with Matgate and Pedalgate, or NHTSA has been performing less than uniformly (i.e. treating the OEM’s differently or being less proactive) then the story is worthy of equally heavy additional government (congressional) scrutiny and the attending media scrutiny (or vice-versa).

    Regarding Cammy’s question about OEM inspection:
    – the industry recognized large-scale inspection as “inspecting quality into the part” and after the big quality blitzes in the 80’s and 90’s, this was unnecessary and uneconomical, and was largely discontinued;
    – the industry moved to a trust but verify (by audit) mentality; the supplier is trusted to provide good parts, and to notify the OEM of any quality issues;
    – the supplier is obliged to notify, and get OEM approval before any changes to material/ design/ process/ subsuppliers/ etc., any changes being accompanied by appropriate up-front testing and verification;
    – so basically, after PSW-sign-off, the OEM only checks parts on an occasional basis to ensure continuing conformance, but this is mostly done at the plant level, and only for interface dimensions (not detailled durability or functionality tests, and certainly not disassembly and inspection of internal components … no plants, and not even an OEM’s central labs, have the competence and resources to do that!).

    Unless there is an error or omission in the OEM-spec (at the simple-end of the scale, these are mostly interface, function, durability kinds of specs, and at the complex-end of the scale, as in mechatronic EPAS units, these can include extremely detailled specifications and requirements for software/ components/ concepts), when a safety functional error occurrs in the field, the supplier has a goodly amount of responsiblity.

  • avatar

    I really do hope we don’t get into the habit of reporting recalls at TTAC. One of Autoblog’s most objectionable features is the cesspit that comments on any recall story eventually degenerate into.

    Toyota is fair game because it’s, well, an important media event. GM might be on the grounds of GM’s typical non-responsibility (eg, “we didn’t test the part, it’s not our problem, etc”), in which case the headline should read something like: Lutz: Your Problem is Their Problem, Not Our Problem rather than playing up the recall angle.

  • avatar

    And this leaves 05-07 Saturn ION owners where ????

    Or even 03-07 since they were using this electronic steering system well before the Cobalt became a platform mate.

    I guess we call the customer service reps of the “old GM”? Or Toyota?

  • avatar
    Cammy Corrigan

    Can someone explain to me why when TTAC reported a recall on Honda’s Jazz/Fit everyone thought it was pertinent, despite my protestations (evidence in link). Yet, I write a story about GM performing a recall and blaming someone else for it and suddenly it’s “Why are TTAC reporting recalls?”.

    • 0 avatar

      Cammy..Ed, I’m ok with it. But lets be carefull where TTAC goes with this. Psar has it right, it can turn real ugly,real fast.

    • 0 avatar

      The subject is fair game. However, maybe it is just me, but to go out of your way to say “I thought it fair, in the interests of journalism, to blog it.” sounds like your motives are less than fair and journalistic.

    • 0 avatar
      Cammy Corrigan


      If you notice in the next sentence, I wrote:

      “Not because of who it is, but the reasoning around it.”

      and there is the raison d’etre of this article. GM couldn’t just accept that they had to issue a recall. They had to get a dig in at Toyota, even though, logically, it doesn’t make any sense.

      GM blaming everyone else except themselves. Just like “Old” GM.

    • 0 avatar

      Take it easy on Jimal, he’s suffering from newborn-induced sleep-deprivation.

      (Maybe this is a reason that Lutz thinks he is next on the GM ejector-seat … bashing the competition takes one’s eye off the ball, and hence, has no place at the New GM.)

  • avatar

    I think a defining difference is the death involved in one vs. a few accidents in another.

    When a car has a defect and someone dies from it, I think it should absolutely be posted because of how serious the issue could be. To me this recall, and a similar one about the Corolla are far less important than the Honda Fit fire and the SUA at Toyota right now.

    I guess all recalls aren’t created equally is what I am trying to say.

  • avatar

    May I remind everybody of

    “No flaming the website, its authors or fellow commentators… you are NOT free to call the writer biased or unfair.”

    We will NOT waste our time arguing why we wrote one story or did not write another one.

    • 0 avatar


      Philosophically, I agree with you, but explaining that recalls are reported when there is something unusually noteworthy about them should be sufficient explanation. In GM’s case, the sheer size of the recall AND the fact that GM dickered around with calling it what it is is in and of itself newsworthy.

  • avatar

    Interesting that the GM recall is reported by a foreigner.

    I tell you what the deal is here.
    GM are acting like their inner city criminal bosses. They have been jacking people around forever with this, but now that there is massive political pressure on Toyota they decided to use the opportunity to try and shift most of the recall cost to a supplier partially owned by Toyota by association.

    Anyone that buys this dog and pony show deserves what they get.

  • avatar

    “Read through our archives, and you’ll see that there is no consistent policy on recall reporting. We try to bring our readers the most interesting, provocative car news of the day, period. Full stop.”
    Personally, I am sick of the sensationalized “recall reporting.” This site used to be TRUTH ABOUT CARS. The above line; Not so much.

  • avatar

    I don’t understand why people make such a big deal out of recalls. These are mass produced machines with thousands of parts. Why is it such a surprise when something goes wrong. With all the crap on today’s cars I’m amazed that we don’t have more recalls than we do.

  • avatar

    Its been in the media quite a bit today. One of the first stories I saw when I flipped on the laptop today. Obviously this recall won’t get all the attention Toyota’s UA problems have because 1: There haven’t been any fatalities and 2: GM (especially the effected models) doesn’t have the expectation of quality to begin with. It will be interesting to see if GM catches any heat for the timing of this recall, because much the same as Toyota’s acceleration problems, the steering on these models has been suffering with complaints for quite some time prior to this announcement.

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