At this point, General Motors has a hair trigger on its recall switch after the faulty ignition scandal broke in January, when it was discovered that more than 2.5 million vehicles were equipped with an ignition switch that could cause the car to shut down while at speed, jeopardizing the car’s power brakes, power steering, and airbags. About 19 families have been found viable for compensation payments from GM as a result, after the company enlisted Kenneth Feinberg to administer payments to the appropriate parties.
That situation, which occurred just two weeks into CEO Mary Barra’s term, then triggered an enormous overhaul of the way General Motors handles safety and quality control. To date, GM has recalled about 30 million vehicles since the beginning of the year, not only setting a company record but an industry one for the most vehicles recalled in a single year. However, GM has largely had a blessing in disguise with the recalled switches: They were all implemented on older vehicles, and the company’s new cars have, for the most part, been free of any major defects.
This isn’t to say that there have not been recalls on them — even the new Corvette has run into trouble. But GM is so concerned about salvaging its reputation, which has been dragged through the mud as a result, that it’s hitting the recall switch at just about every opportunity to ensure it doesn’t have a repeat of this year in another 10 or so years. Most recently, the company put out an order for 132,921 vehicles, comprised of the 2013 and 2015 Cadillac XTS produced between February 14, 2012, to August 22 of this year, as well as the 2014-2015 model year Chevrolet Impalas made between January 15, 2013, and this past August.
If the electronic parking brake piston actuation arm doesn’t fully retract in these cars, the brake pads may be partially engaged, creating excessive brake heat that may cause a fire, Bloomberg reports, quoting a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The scenario can apparently be fixed with an update to the software, which GM’s dealers will do for free.
While many of General Motors’ past recalls can be attributed to either production hiccups or faulty parts (therefore largely the fault of the supplier), the fact that the issue is specifically software-related pins the blame on GM. Though electronic parking brakes solve common issues with cable-based E-brakes (namely, a stretching of the brake cable), the latest recall highlights the potential risks that pinning crucial functions to software can have.
However, the industry is undeniably headed in that direction. This is perhaps best illustrated by Tesla Motors and its Model S, which can be changed and updated via software patches that the company puts out over the air. It can be anything from a user interface adjustment to changing the suspension ride height for the car or adjusting the settings to allow the car to use its power more efficiently.
Naturally, this can be a mixed blessing. On one hand, it makes solving routine issues considerably easier — Tesla needs only to send out a new patch to fix a problem, saving drivers the inconvenience of driving to a local shop and waiting for it to be repaired. On the flip side, placing so much confidence in new technology can have its downsides, as GM is finding out the hard way.
On a more positive note, the flow of GM’s recall campaigns has slowed to a trickle compared to the deluge in the first half of the year, implying that much of the review of its older models is complete, and unless there’s a case being built, the huge, voluminous campaigns may be over for now. In its place, though, we can expect to see more of these kinds of smaller-volume, newer-model pre-emptive efforts as General Motors works to get ahead of the problem.