By Paul Lienert
DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Co is adding 971,000 cars to its global ignition switch recall, which began in February with 1.6 million vehicles and has been linked to at least a dozen deaths.
The recall, which now totals 2,591,665 cars, includes all model years of the Chevrolet Cobalt, Chevrolet HHR, Saturn Ion, Saturn Sky, Pontiac G5 and Pontiac Solstice made from 2003-2011.
Older versions of those cars, dating from 2003-2007, were recalled in February.
Even before the expansion, the recall had sparked investigations by Congress, federal regulators, the Department of Justice and GM itself. All are asking why it took GM so long to address an issue first noted by the company in 2001.
GM said the newer models made after 2007 were equipped with a redesigned ignition switch, but that some of those cars might have been repaired with older replacement parts that may be faulty. The expanded recall includes 824,000 cars in the United States and 971,000 globally, GM said.
GM also is recalling all the replacement ignition switches that have been sent to U.S. aftermarket distributors, the spare parts market. About 95,000 faulty switches were sold to dealers and parts wholesalers.
Reuters reported this week that it was still possible to purchase GM-brand ignition switches manufactured by Delphi Automotive carrying the same parts number as the product at the center of the February recall.
These switches may not be defective, but it is nearly impossible to tell unless they are taken apart or the manufacturing history is checked.
GM said Friday that no deaths or injuries have been linked to faulty ignition switches in the newer models that have been added to the recall.
GM Chief Executive Mary Barra said Friday that "we are taking no chances with safety" in replacing the ignition switches on all 2.6 million cars.
Some of the newer cars could have faulty replacement ignitions that could be switched from "run" to "accessory," shutting down the engine and disabling the cars' power steering, power brakes and airbags.
GM had said on Thursday that the replacement ignition switch it has ordered from Delphi to use in the earlier recall will bear a new part number that "eliminates any potential confusion about which part to use in the repair," according to a company spokesman.
A GM spokesman on Friday said GM decided to recall all the replacement parts currently in stock at U.S. parts distributors "out of an abundance of caution."
GM said owners will be notified by mail the week of April 21 and can have ignition switches replaced for free at dealers "as parts become available" -- a process that is likely to take months because of the sheer number of vehicles involved.
GM also launched a website, www.gmignitionupdate.com, to provide consumers with information on the recall.
GM replaced the Cobalt in 2010 with a newer compact, the Cruze. On Friday, the automaker told U.S. dealers to stop selling certain 2013 and 2014 Cruze sedans equipped with 1.4-liter engines without saying why.
(Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit, editing by Peter Henderson)