Opinion: Has GM made any cars recently that don’t have to be recalled?

General Motors recall
General Motors on Tuesday announced a new recall of 2.4 million vehicles.
(Joshua Lott / Getty Images)

It’s odd, and I’m old, but I don’t ever recall seeing so many carmaker recalls.

Or, put another way: Has General Motors built any cars recently that don’t need to be recalled?

On Tuesday, the new poster boy for bad engineering and poor quality control (seizing the crown from former champ, uh, chump, Toyota) issued still another recall, this one involving 2.42 million vehicles for four separate issues. That’s on top of the 2.6 million vehicles GM has recalled for faulty ignition switches, bringing its grand total this year to -- wait for it -- 13.1 million vehicles.

Though there is a silver lining in GM’s recall cloud: It has (bad) company. As my colleague David Undercoffler reported: “This latest round of recalls puts 2014 on track to be the busiest recall year ever. With nearly 23 million vehicles recalled, the auto industry is well on pace to beat the 30.8-million vehicles recalled in 2004.”


Whoopee. So if the crazy guy texting and weaving in the lane next to you doesn’t kill you, your own car just might. It’s (almost) enough to make you want to take the train (though not the bus; never the bus). Could we actually, shudder, be headed toward a day when biking to work is better?

Sorry. Got a little feverish there. This is L.A., land of the freeway, home of the Bimmer. Not gonna happen.

But the details of the GM recall do give one pause. As Undercoffler wrote:

“The most serious issue involved 1,402 Cadillac Escalades and Escalade ESVs from the 2015 model year. The hulking luxury SUVs have front passenger airbags that were not properly attached to the instrument panel. As a result, they may only partially deploy in a crash.


“Demonstrating the gravity of the problem, GM sent letters, emailed, and called all 224 owners of the vehicles and warned them not to drive with people sitting in the front passenger seat until the vehicles can be fixed. No accidents or injuries have been reported as a result of this issue, GM said.”

Now, I suppose the good news is that GM discovered the glitch before anyone got hurt. Then again, that raises the question of why GM couldn’t, or didn’t, discover the glitch before it was a glitch.

The damage this is doing to GM is dramatic. The recalls have forced the company to take a $400-million charge against second-quarter earnings. Which is a lot, but it could well be chicken feed compared with the long-term damage to GM’s reputation among the car-buying public.

But as Toyota’s experience shows, you can both build faulty cars and still sell lots of cars. In fact, over at, they’ve helpfully compiled a list of the least and most recalled car makes since 1985 (a shout-out to Forbes contributor Jim Gorzelany for finding this). Here’s the list, with the recall rate versus sales in the U.S. from 1980 onward:

  1. Mercedes-Benz USA: 2.1 million recalled/5.2 million sold; 0.41 recall rate.
  2. Mazda Motor Corp.: 5.2 million recalled/9.4 million sold; 0.55 recall rate.
  3. General Motors: 99.3 million recalled/153.2 million sold; 0.65 recall rate.
  4. Nissan North America: 19.1 million recalled/26.8 million sold; 0.71 recall rate.
  5. Subaru of America: 4.3 million recalled/6.0 million sold; 0.73 recall rate.
  6. Kia Motors: 3.7 million recalled/4.9 million sold; 0.77 recall rate.
  7. Toyota Motor Corp.: 38.6 million recalled/48.1 million sold; 0.80 recall rate.
  8. BMW of North America: 5.1 million recalled/5.7 million sold; 0.90 recall rate.
  9. Ford Motor Co.: 97.0 million recalled/104.7 million sold; 0.93 recall rate.
  10.    American Honda Motor Co.: 31.1 million recalled/32.9 million sold; 0.94 recall rate.
  11.    Chrysler Group: 63.2 million recalled/63.2 million sold; 1.00 recall rate.
  12.    Volvo Cars of North America: 3.3 million recalled/3.1 million sold; 1.05 recall rate.
  13.    Volkswagen of America: 10.2 million recalled/9.7 million sold; 1.06 recall rate.
  14.    Mitsubishi Motors North America: 5.3 million recalled/4.8 million sold; 1.09 recall rate.
  15.    Hyundai Motor Co:  9.9 million recalled/8.7 million sold; 1.15 recall rate.

Kinda sobering. Though personally, I’m feeling OK.
You see, I drive a Mazda.

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