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Fatal crash in Canada may be related to GM recall

2007 Chevrolet Cobalt SS

General Motors

Transport Canada is investigating a fatal car accident in this country that it says appears to be linked to the same failure of General Motors Co. ignition switches that led to 12 deaths in the United States.

There has been one complaint in Canada, the federal department says, involving a crash that appears to be related to the failure of ignition switches that has led to a recall of 1.6 million GM vehicles and investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Transport Canada said it is still investigating the fatal crash, which occurred in June, 2013.

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If the Canadian accident is found to have been caused by failure of the ignition switch, it would be more than three years after the date of what GM has said was the most recent fatal crash – December, 2009.

General Motors of Canada Ltd. began sending recall notices this week to about 236,000 Canadian owners of models in which the ignition can be prone to shutting off, leading to a shutdown of the engine, power steering and brakes and possible failure of airbags to inflate if there's a crash.

The Canadian crash relates to a severe accident in which a vehicle went off the road and hit several trees, Transport Canada spokeswoman Josianne Martel said in an e-mail response to questions about the GM Canada recall.

"The sole occupant of the vehicle, who was not wearing the seat belt, was fatally injured," Ms. Martel said.

The investigating police force is responsible for determining what contributed to the accident, she said. Transport Canada is analyzing data provided by GM Canada from the vehicle's event data recorder.

GM Canada spokeswoman Adria MacKenzie said the auto maker's discussions with Transport Canada are private, but noted that: "Our investigation into the ignition switch issue is ongoing and we are working diligently to reach affected customers."

The questions swirling around GM and NHTSA centre on when the auto maker first knew that the ignition switches might be defective, when it told the U.S. regulatory authority and when NHTSA took action.

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In documents filed with NHTSA late Wednesday, GM said the defect was present in pre-production models of a Saturn vehicle in 2001, but the design of the switch was later changed.

Chevrolet Cobalt models began experiencing power failures in 2005, the documents said, but recall notices for the Cobalt models and other vehicles affected were not issued to U.S. customers until last month. GM Canada began sending out letters to Canadian customers this week.

Saturn, Pontiac and Chevrolet models for several years during the 2000s are being recalled. GM no longer makes any Saturn or Pontiac models and the affected Chevrolet models have been discontinued.

GM Canada and its parent company have offered $500 rebates to owners of the cars who purchase new 2013, 2014 or 2015 models of its vehicles and loaner cars to customers who don't want to drive the cars until they're fixed.

The recall represents the first big challenge for new GM chief executive officer Mary Barra, who took over in mid-January.

"How she performs could have a significant impact on her assertion of control at GM," industry analyst Matthew Stover, who follows the company for Guggenheim Securities LLC, said in a note to clients Thursday.

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"In our estimation, the recall is not the issue," Mr. Stover wrote. "Auto companies are often subject to recall notices and handle them in a fairly routine manner. The issue here is the handling of the recall by both GM and NHTSA."

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About the Author
Auto and Steel Industry Reporter

Greg Keenan has covered the automotive and steel industries for The Globe and Mail since 1995. He also writes about broader manufacturing trends. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto and of the University of Western Ontario School of Journalism. More


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