General Motors’ CEO, Mary Barra, testified this week at government hearings on the deadly recall delay that contributed to at least 13 deaths of motorists driving GM vehicles with defective ignition switches. During that testimony Ms. Barra discussed one of GM’s ridiculous early “solutions” for problems with ignitions turning to the off position as vehicles were being driven. GM engineers designed an insert to be placed in the keys’ holes in an attempt to limit how much key chains dangled. This “fix” saved the company a few dollars in labor costs that would have been charged if they recalled the vehicles to replace the defective ignitions.
Ms. Barra did not seem to think that this solution was as ludicrous as I do and the government investigative team did not press the issue. Maybe future hearings will question why such an absurd solution was offered.
NBC News reported that GM engineers thought this was a pretty good fix as well. During the trial which is credited for exposing GM’s deadly actions in delaying the ignition switch recall, A GM engineer involved talks about the 2005 key insert fix as described by NBC News:
During testimony, GM engineer David Trush, who helped implement the insert fix, called the insert a “good solution” for a “very small population” affected by the problem.
“We put the solution out in the field,” said Trush, “the solution that would solve some of the stuff.”
The Meltons’ attorney, Lance Cooper, then asked witness Gary Altman, who was GM’s program engineering manager for the Cobalt in 2004 and 2005, if it was true that the car company “made a business decision not to fix this problem and five months later sold [Brooke Melton] a vehicle with the problem.”
GM’s lawyer objected, but Altman answered, “That is what happened, yes.”
As if the key insert was not a poor enough solution, dealerships were advised by GM not to offer the inserts unless the owners of the defective vehicles complained!
Of course, Mary Barra will claim that this was all “old” GM and that “today’s” GM does not operate that way. Really? Then why did it take almost five years for Today’s GM to recall the vehicles? And then, only after media exposure pressured the company to do so.
Besides the question of why it took Today’s GM almost five years to recall vehicles with deadly defects that they knew about, committees in charge of future hearings should consider these additional questions for Ms. Barra regarding how Today’s GM has addressed dangerous vehicles needing recall:
Why did Today’s GM only do a partial recall of dangerous vehicles in February of 2014, leaving other vehicles with the same defective ignition switch (which Today’s GM was well aware of) on the road for about two weeks, until media pressure brought about the second recall for the remaining vehicles?
Why did Today’s GM do a recall in 2010 for Chevy Cobalts and Pontiac G5s with defective power steering units only to leave about 1.5 million other vehicles with the same defective part on the road? These remaining vehicles were only recalled recently after the National Legal and Policy Center sent a letter to Ms. Barra requesting the recall.
Why did a Today’s GM spokesman, Alan Adler, initially blame the victims for the fatal accidents involving vehicles with defective ignition switches, deceitfully claiming that, “All of these crashes occurred off-road and at high speeds…” and that alcohol contributed to the accidents? Will an apology be issued to the victims?
Who advised Mr. Adler to blame the victims and falsely claim that all defective vehicles that were involved in crashes were being driven “off-road?”
Who at Today’s GM was involved and made aware of the 2011 high-level meetings addressing the defective ignition accidents? Why weren’t you, Ms. Barra, as head of product development at the time?
Regarding meetings held in May of 2009, just two weeks prior to GM filing for bankruptcy, why wasn’t the bankruptcy court made aware of the liabilities arising from the defective ignition switches as required by law? Why wasn’t President Obama’s Auto Task Force aware of the issues? Sorry, I know that’s Old GM and not Today’s GM’s fault, even though most of the same people in charge today were there.
Whose idea was it to offer $500 towards a new GM vehicle to owners of old, defective GM vehicles in a sleazy sales ploy to help sell more cars? Do you really think that was a compassionate response?
Ms. Barra now has the attorneys that represent GM investigating the failures of Old GM. I am not confident that the same attorneys who are paid to protect Today’s GM will give a scathing (or honest) report. I suspect that these are the same folks who tell spokespeople to make statements using terminology like “off-road” to describe how vehicles were being driven that lose control and veer off highways. Hey, technically they were being driven “off-road” since that is where the victims ended up after losing control. What sleazeballs.
The victims of both Old GM and Today’s GM deserve justice and the American public deserves the truth. The sham bankruptcy process orchestrated by Obama’s team should not protect Today’s GM from accountability. And cronyism should not protect Today’s GM and those responsible for leaving vehicles with deadly defects on the road from facing criminal charges.
Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.