General Motors must show it knows what it's doing

he emblem on a General Motors Cadillac vehicle is seen on June 30, 2014 in Miami, Florida. General Motors announced that it is recalling an additional 7.55 million vehicles in the U.S. as it expands the number of cars it will take off the road to fix defects. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

(MCT) -- For the sake of GM's customers, dealers, employees and the company's future, the automaker must convince the American public it knows what it's doing before a string of safety recall pulls it under.

At what point does the word "quagmire" become appropriate?

It's bad enough to recall 2.6 million cars you built a decade ago, the compacts that led this circus into town. It gets worse when you reveal that a rogue engineer apparently circumvented all the automaker's quality and safety protocols.

But when a seemingly similar problem discovered months later leads to the recall of millions more cars, including the brand-new Cadillac CTS sport sedan, the situation begins to look ridiculous.

"It leads you to ask: Are there more shoes to drop?" Autotrader senior analyst Michelle Krebs said. "We thought the worst was behind GM. Now it's hard to be sure."

If an automaker can't be trusted to get something as simple as an ignition key right, customers would be forgiven for asking, "What they can do right?"

Monday's recall of 7.3 million U.S. cars for, you guessed it, "unintended ignition key rotation" stole the wind from GM's sails, shifting focus from its plan to compensate victims of the first set of bad ignition switches to the revelation of millions more defective cars.

The New York Stock Exchange considered it extreme enough to suspend trading in GM stock.

At this point, why and how this happened barely matters. Perhaps the delay diagnosing the original problem led to similar bad parts being accepted for other vehicles. Maybe it's proof that parts suppliers were right when they said the incessant search for the lowest-price manufacturer in the least-developed nation would result in lousy quality. Maybe the auto industry's rush to use modular systems and global platforms made it easier for a defective part to proliferate across several model lines.

GM needs to figure that out, but it really needs to show buyers it learned its lesson.

That requires more than mea culpas. I've seen GM's best and brightest shaken by how wrong things went at what was once the world's greatest engineering company. I heard CEO Mary Barra deliver a brutal assessment of the company's culpability to employees around the world.

Sincerity is no longer enough.

We know GM means well. The question is whether it knows what it's doing.

"GM's job now is to show car buyers the mistakes it made in the past are not baked into the vehicles they're making now," senior analyst Bill Visnic said.