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?
Former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Joan Claybrook, has weighed in on the deadly delay by General Motors on a recall for a defect that is alleged to have resulted in 13 deaths and 33 accidents. Ms. Claybrook appeared on the Cavuto Show on Fox Business where she blasted both GM and NHTSA for waiting 10 years to recall the defective models and went as far as saying that there should be criminal charges brought against GM by the Justice Department.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is opening an investigation into General Motors' response to an ignition-switch defect that has been linked to 13 deaths, prompting a recall of 1.6 million vehicles. As I have previously reported, the ignition-switch problem has been known for years. What took NHTSA so long?
NHTSA is an executive branch agency, part of the Transportation Department. According to its website, NHTSA "is dedicated to achieving the highest standards of excellence in motor vehicle and highway safety. It works daily [emphasis added] to help prevent crashes and their attendant costs, both human and financial."
New evidence is surfacing that General Motors has known for years about the deadly defects in its vehicles (as I suggested here last week) that are just now being recalled. The defects have led to the deaths of at least six people and are the basis of an ongoing lawsuit against GM.
The deadly recall delay by GM has garnered the attention of Mainstream Media as usually GM-friendly sources like USA Today, The New York Times, CNN Money and even CBS Evening News have rightfully decided that the accusations of deplorable behavior by GM deserve to be shared with the public. It is time for GM to explain its handling of the delayed recall that only came after a lawsuit settlement with one of the victims.