(NBC News) Under mounting pressure, General Motors doubled a recall involving defective ignition switches ─ now linked to 31 crashes and at least 13 fatalities.
The maker also apologized for the problem, which critics say it has long known about and failed to respond to in a timely manner.
“Ensuring our customers’ safety is our first order of business,” said GM North America President Alan Batey. “We are deeply sorry and we are working to address this issue as quickly as we can.”
The maker first announced plans to recall nearly 800,000 older compact models about two weeks ago. At the time, GM officials said it knew of 22 accidents and six fatalities connected to the problem. The expanded recall affects 1.6 million vehicles in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
The issue involves a defective ignition switch that inadvertently can be turned either to the “off” or accessory positions, turning off the engine and most electrical components. That includes vehicle airbag systems that would be needed in a crash.
The first announcement covered the Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 sedans sold in North America during model-years 2005 through 2007, and the Pontiac Pursuit sold in Canada. But GM came under fire from safety advocates who contended it had excluded a number of vehicles using the same defective ignition switch.
Added to the recalled list are 2003-2007 Saturn Ions, 2006-2007 Chevrolet HHRs, and 2006-2007 Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky models.
GM has been accused of waiting longer than necessary to address the problem. Federal regulations cover how and when a manufacturer must act on a known safety defect. Makers including Ford, BMW and Toyota have faced hefty penalties in recent years and GM could, as well, if the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration were to determine it delayed the recall unnecessarily.
The maker said it has submitted documentation to NHTSA – including a chronology of its actions on the switch problem.
“The chronology shows that the process employed to examine this phenomenon was not as robust as it should have been,” GM’s Batey said.