The Chevrolet Cobalt had a defective ignition switch. It transpired that if the driver had a keyring with several other keys on it the weight on the ignition switch could turn it off. Unfortunately this not only meant that the car lost motive power, but also the power steering, power braking, and airbags no longer worked. Many drivers not only found themselves struggling, all of a sudden, to control their vehicle but if they were unfortunate enough to crash as a result, the most important safety feature they had, the airbags, were useless. People died.
There was another factor that made the defect more deadly. As a small compact car the Cobalt sold mainly to younger drivers; and younger drivers almost invariably are fairly inexperienced. Whilst an older motorist with many years of experience might be able to react correctly to a sudden loss of power, younger ones (who may well have been driving faster than they really should) would be more likely to panic or react wrongly. It is therefore not surprising that the majority of people who are alleged to have been killed by this defect were under the age of 25.
In all, it has been claimed that around 90 people lost their lives as a consequence of failure of a component that would have been extremely cheap for Chevrolet to replace. It was also alleged that the company knew all about the defect, but tried to cover it up, fearing the effect that a scandal would have on sales.
There were reports that the fault had been noticed even before the cars were manufactured, but suggestions that the parts be redesigned were rejected on cost grounds – allegedly an extra one US dollar per vehicle! By 2004 it was common knowlege at Chevrolet that not only a heavy keyring but even a particularly bumpy road could cause a sudden power failure; and yet it wasn't until 2014 that the company's executives held their hands in the air, admitted the problem existed and recalled the cars.
Even without this problem the Cobalt had been condemned by many unfortunate owners as a lemon. There were complaints about locks opening unexpectedly, doors that jammed shut, windows falling out, power steering systems failing. Perhaps Chevrolet's insolvency didn't come a moment too soon.