By Karl Henkel
and Melissa Burden
The Detroit News
Less than 2 percent of ignition switches needed to fix 2.59 mil- lion recalled General Motors Co. cars will be available next week at dealerships — and dealers are unsure when and how many replacement parts they will get.
“We’re in the dark just like everyone else,” said Reichard Mann, service manager at Greenwood Chevrolet near Youngs-town.
GM says about 47,000 replacement parts are in the first shipment, according to a filing this week by the company as part of a class action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Texas.
Few parts could create a backlog of customers who take their recalled cars into dealerships. GM has promised to provide loaner cars to owners who are afraid to drive recalled cars that are awaiting new switches, but some car owners told The Detroit News and claimed in social media posts that dealers cannot offer them loaners because their fleets are depleted.
Flawed ignition switches in Saturn Ions, Chevy Cobalts and other GM cars have been linked to 13 deaths and were the subject of two congressional hearings in Washington this week.
The first wave of replacement parts, built at a Delphi Corp. plant in Mexico, will be shipped late this week, and dealers can begin repairs as early as next week. GM hopes to have 1 million parts by the end of August and all by this fall.
The company initially stated it wanted to complete all ignition switch repairs by the end of October. But that was before the automaker recalled 971,000 additional cars March 28. GM now says it expects to have all cars repaired by late fall.
GM CEO Mary Barra testified before Congress this week that Delphi has two assembly lines running to produce the new ignition switches and GM has asked for a third. GM had to work with Delphi after the recall was announced to design and test a part, validate it for durability and test it to failure — all within a couple of months.
A Delphi spokeswoman did not return a call Thursday about the third production line.
A heavy key chain hanging from the weak ignition switch can cause it to accidentally turn off the engine, causing cars to lose power steering and braking, and disable air bags. GM says driving with just the ignition key is safe, but a Texas lawyer on Thursday said he knows of an incident in which a 2007 Cobalt shut off while driving with just the ignition key.
GM dealers contacted by The News said they have no firm date by which they’ll receive the new ignition switches, or how many GM will allot per dealership.
Tony Ciambella, a service writer at Merollis Chevrolet in Eastpointe, Mich., said he hopes GM will send some parts next week so they can begin repairs.
GM spokesman Jim Cain said GM will “identify the markets that have the largest concentrations of recalled vehicles and prioritize parts shipments to them, at least initially.” Sales of the recalled cars were heavily concentrated in the Midwest and Plains states.
Ciambella said Thursday that Merollis has taken in an estimated 30 to 40 cars from people who don’t want to drive them until fixed. He said the dealership is getting a couple dozen calls a day from owners with recall questions.
“Our phones have been busy,” he said, adding the dealership has not had trouble getting people into loaners, if they want them.
In Youngstown, Mann said “several hundred” customers have dropped off recalled cars in exchange for loaners. Those cars are parked in a secured lot, but likely won’t be repaired for weeks, maybe months.
The Cobalt was built at the GM assembly plant in Lordstown.
Dan Cohen, general manager of Moran Chevrolet in Clinton Township, Mich., said the dealership has already put about 100 customers in loaner cars while it waits for replacement parts from GM.
“We’ve got tons of people in cars,” he said.
Anthony Petz, 24, of Detroit, who owns a recalled Ion, subsequently said Moran was one of a handful of local dealerships he called about getting a loaner car this week. They told him it would take until sometime next week before a loaner is available.
In a follow-up call from The News, Cohen said he did not recall any trouble getting customers into loaners.
Ion owner Chris Gottardo, 24, of the Detroit suburb of Warren, said he experienced difficulties when he called dealerships in search of a loaner. He is still driving the Ion.
GM’s Cain said, “We’ve been working really closely with rental companies to make sure we have an adequate supply or as close to adequate as we can get. We’re going to do everything we can to get people in loaner cars.”
GM says nearly 15,000 customers have received free loaners. The Detroit News reported last month that GM had lined up tens of thousands of cars from rental agencies to prevent a shortage.
Jesse Toprak, chief analyst at Cars.com, who previously managed franchise dealerships in the Midwest in the 1990s, said the lack of information and loaner cars is increasingly frustrating to dealers and customers.
“Once GM has a plan in place, dealerships should be getting a bulletin within a day or two,” Toprak said of information relating to the new ignition switches. “A delay doesn’t help the dealership at all. The customers are already upset and you as a dealer don’t want to tell them that you don’t know.”
CONTRIBUTOR: Staff Writer Bryce G. Hoffman