DETROIT — General Motors on Tuesday doubled to 1.6 million the number of small cars it is recalling to fix faulty ignition switches linked to multiple fatal crashes.
Two weeks ago, GM announced the recall of more than 780,000 Chevrolet Cobalts and Pontiac G5s. It’s now adding 842,000 Saturn Ion compacts, Chevrolet HHR SUVs, and Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky sports cars.
The company was immediately lambasted by a well-known safety advocate who says GM knew of the problem for years and waited too long to recall the cars even though people were killed because of the problem.
‘‘They knew by 2007 they had 10 incidents where the air bag didn’t deploy in this type of crash,’’ said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the advocacy group Center for Auto Safety. ‘‘This is a case where both GM and [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] should be held accountable for doing a recall no later than the spring of 2007.’’
GM North American president Alan Batey said in a statement the process to examine the problem ‘‘was not as robust’’ as it should have been and said the GM of today would behave differently.
GM says a heavy key ring or jarring from rough roads can cause the ignition switch to move out of the run position and shut off the engine and electrical power. That can knock out power-assisted brakes and steering and disable the front air bags. The problem has been linked to 31 crashes and 13 front-seat deaths. In the fatalities, the air bags did not inflate, but the engines did not shut off in all cases, GM said.
It was unclear whether the ignition switches caused the crashes or whether people died because the air bags didn’t inflate.