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.
Roll Call published my piece today. It was written before the recall of 1.5 million vehicles for steering loss, in apparent response to our March 19 request.
Why did General Motors wait a full decade to recall more than 1.6 million vehicles that have been connected to 13 deaths and dozens of injuries?
Most of the questions at this week's Congressional hearings will certainly focus on who knew what, and when they knew it. The answers, and how they relate to the 2009 government bailout of GM, could have political and criminal implications. When it comes to questions of vehicle safety, congressional investigators no doubt will find that the bailout only enabled a culture of mediocrity at GM.
Almost two weeks after NLPC first requested that General Motors recall vehicles with defective power steering components, the company has agreed to the recall and finally remove the dangerous vehicles from the roads. Over 1.3 million Saturn Ions and related vehicles are included in the recall, bringing the total amount of GM vehicles recalled over the past month or so to over 6 million. The total cost to GM for the recalls will be in the billions of dollars with the latest recall probably accounting for over $1.5 billion on its own. The costs to GM's reputation are even greater.
The housing market has been on an upswing these past few years, but the mortgage bailout is far from a distant memory. Anyone doubting as much should pore through the most recent quarterly report from the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or SIGTARP (see pdf). That audit, among other things, concluded that nearly 800,000 homeowners enrolled in the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) face higher monthly mortgage payments once their current subsidy runs out. The five-year-old HAMP was designed to prevent foreclosures at a time when home prices were sinking and unemployment was rising. Yet defaults, the precursor to foreclosures, have occurred at high rates anyway.
On Friday, General Motors expanded its recall of vehicles with an ignition switch defect, but Saturn Ions with a dangerous steering loss problem remain unrecalled, even though Chevy Cobalts and other models with the exact same defect were previously recalled. The two Congressional Committees holding hearings this week must directly ask GM CEO Mary Barra why these dangerous vehicles remain on the road.
It has now been almost two weeks since we requested that Barra immediately order a recall of Saturn Ions (MY 2004 to 2007) with defective electric power steering systems. GM had previously recalled Chevy Cobalts and Pontiac G5s in 2010 which had the same defective part (as reported here) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has had an ongoing investigation on the defect for years. The fact that the cost to repair the steering column on the defective vehicles is much higher than what it cost GM to repair ignition switches on recently recalled vehicles (same vehicles, different defect) may be the reason for the delay.
Merriam-Webster.com defines compassion as, "a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc." A Google search teaming the name Mary Barra with "compassionate" pulls up a host of articles fawning over General Motors' new CEO's handling of the company's botched recalls which seem to have cost at least 12 American lives. Contrary to the media's belief that GM is a compassionate entity working in the best interests of accident victims, the facts show that the response to defects in GM vehicles and subsequent recall delays has been anything BUT compassionate.
It appears that General Motors and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have still not done everything they can to assure the safety of American motorists regarding GM vehicles that have a history of dangerous defects.
The latest defect that I have uncovered relates to a loss of power steering in Saturn Ions for the model years 2004 to 2007. The same vehicles were recalled for a separate, unrelated ignition switch problem, along with the Chevrolet Cobalt and the Pontiac G5. The delay in the ignition switch recall has been blamed for the deaths of at least 12 Americans. Unfortunately, GM is equally slow in addressing the steering loss problem.
Never underestimate the ability of Congress to address a problem through symbolic action. Over the weekend, Sens. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, introduced a bill, the Housing Finance Reform and Taxpayer Protection Act of 2014, to phase out secondary mortgage lending corporations Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac over a five-year period and replace them with a new insurance-based system. The 442-page draft bill builds on a plan unveiled last June by Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Mark Warner, D-Va. Like its predecessor, this bill rests on the faulty premise that the main problem is these companies' continued existence. Lawmakers instead should allow them to operate, but without a federal lifeline.
The New York Times hinted that the 11 year death toll for victims who drove defective General Motors' vehicles (that are just now being recalled) may rise from the current 12 confirmed fatalities. The Times reports, "Since 2003, GM has reported at least 78 deaths and 1,581 injuries involving the now-recalled cars, according to a review of agency records."
It is not clear how many of the accidents involving one of the 1.6 million now-recalled vehicles were caused by the defect. The article does state that "the records mention potentially defective components" and "regulators appear to have overlooked disturbing complaints of engine shutdowns."
General Motors continues to double down on plug-in electric vehicles, now offering the Cadillac ELR, which is a gussied up version of the Chevy Volt at twice the price. The latest Cadillac ELR ad has stirred up a lot of debate regarding its pro-American capitalism message as General Motors spent roughly $100,000 for each of the commercials that it ran during the Sochi Olympics.
Although the commercial garnered much attention, the heavy ad spending resulted in just 58 of the tax-subsidized (each affluent buyer gets a $7,500 federal tax credit) Cadillac ELRs being sold in February, three months into the car's launch. The debate about the ELR ad seems to be omitting the most obvious question which is, why is GM wasting shareholder's money advertising a car that has no chance of having widespread market appeal?