Feds Open Probe into Whether GM Should Recall Saturn Ion Models

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The federal government is investigating whether some 384,000 Saturn Ion compact cars should have been included in a recall earlier this year. The recall was for more than one million General Motors models to repair power steering units that could fail.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into electric power-steering units in 2004-2007 Ions earlier this month after receiving more than 600 complaints from drivers that have led to crashes in a few instances.

The federal inquiry follows the recall earlier this year of 1.3 million 2005-2010 Chevrolet Cobalt and 2007-2010 Pontiac G5 models that use a similar power assist system. GM (GM) recalled the vehicles in March even as the automaker argued that failure of the power assist would increase steering effort but not pose a safety hazard. NHTSA disagreed, saying the defect could raise the potential for crashes.

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In a posting at the NHTSA website, the agency summarized its reasons for opening the investigation into Ion models. In part, the Dec. 15 entry says the agency has received 633 complaints alleging sudden loss of power steering in 2004-07 Saturn Ion models. "Four complaints alleged that the increased steering efforts contributed to a crash, with one reporting an injury. More than one third of the subject vehicle complaints have been received in the past six months."

GM didn't recall the Saturn models because the failure rate of power-steering units in Ions was lower than that of Cobalts and G5s, spokesman Alan Adler told The New York Times. Further, Adler said that GM provided 2004-2007 Ion owners with a 10-year or 100,000-mile warranty from the time the car was new and included previously owned Ions.

Similarly, a NHTSA official told the Times the agency didn't require GM to recall the Ion models because a safety related defect hadn't been demonstrated. By December, however, a growing number of consumer complaints drove NHTSA to take action. Information provided to the agency by GM showed 638 complaints and 1,444 warranty claims associated with power steering loss. Complaints logged with GM alleged seven crashes involving three injuries.

Investigations of possible safety defects don't always lead to recalls. But owners of affected Ion models would like to have their cars fixed and are urging NHTSA to take action. For its part, GM told the Times it is cooperating in the investigation.
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