Everyone in Washington favors "reform." Unfortunately, the term can be highly deceptive. Such is the case of the Housing Finance Reform and Taxpayer Protection Act of 2014 (S.1217), a bill that would abolish troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in favor of a federally-backed private insurance system. Last Thursday, the Senate Banking Committee approved the measure by a 13-9 vote. Yet the bill, sponsored by Sens. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho (in photos), may never reach the Senate floor - and not undeservedly. For the real problem with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which now are profitable and have more than repaid their federal bailout debt, is not their existence; it is their subjection to tight federal control.
Today, I sent this letter to David Friedman (in photo), Acting Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):
On March 30, 2010 NHTSA's Office of Defect Investigations opened Preliminary Investigation PE10010, into corrosion-related brake line failures in General Motors full-size pickups made between 1999 and 2003. In January 2011, that investigation was upgraded to ODI Engineering Analysis EA11001, which in part appears to determine if corrosion-related brake line failures were a General Motors-specific issue or industry-wide. The "Engineering Analysis" investigation remains open to this day after over three years, making it NHTSA's longest-running open investigation, and the second longest investigation in its history.
GM's initial response to our request yesterday for a recall of vehicles with a brake corrosion problem is completely unacceptable. It was contained in a Detroit News article about our call for the carmaker to recall 6 million pickups and SUVs that are the subject of an open investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
GM spokesman Alan Adler, in photo, claimed that the brake corrosion problem is industry-wide, and suggested it was a normal wear-and-tear issue. He told the News:
The trucks in question are long out of factory warranty and owners manuals urge customers to have their brake lines inspected the same way brake pads need replacement for wear. In fact, more than 20 states require brake-line inspections at one- or two-year intervals or when stopped for a violation.
It looks like there is yet another problem with GM vehicles that has been left unresolved. Chevy Silverados and other GM vehicles are being investigated for brake line corrosion by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). NHTSA reports 890 complaints for brake failure resulting from "brake pipe corrosion."
General Motors reported lackluster first quarter earnings' results as the company took a $1.3 billion charge related to recalls. Most of the expenses for the approximately 7 million vehicles recalled, however, were not actually incurred during the first quarter.
In addition, the $1.3 billion figure is far lower than what the recall will cost GM. The power steering recall alone of about 1.5 million vehicles (which was prompted by NLPC's exposure of the recall delay) is likely to cost more than that. The estimated cost for replacement of power steering columns is in the area of $1,300 per unit, bringing the total for this single recall to roughly $2 billion. That doesn't include loaner cars.
General Motors still has many questions to answer regarding the recall scandal that saw at least 13 lives lost in accidents involving vehicles with deadly ignition switch defects. GM waited over 10 years to recall the defective vehicles. The company now needs to answer for a seeming lack of compassion for the victims. GM initially blamed drivers of defective vehicles involved in fatal crashes by falsely implying that all of the accidents occurred while driving off-road.
On April 1st, General Motors announced that they were having "computer system" issues and that their March sales figures would not be released until later in the day. The company eventually reported a year over year sales gain of about four percent versus an estimate of less than a one percent gain. This came as GM CEO, Mary Barra, was preparing to testify at hearings over the recent GM recall scandal which is reported to have contributed to at least 13 deaths. Coincidentally, GM share price had been taking a hit as well.
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.