Laura Christian’s daughter was 16 years old in 2005 when the Chevy Cobalt she was driving hit a tree. The air bag didn’t deploy, and Amber Marie Rose was killed.
In the past two months, General Motors has recalled more than 2.5 million vehicles worldwide after linking defective ignition switches in similar cars to air bag failures — and to 13 deaths and 31 crashes. And there are indications GM approved the switches in 2002 even though it knew they did not meet specifications…
“Corporate executives made a decision that fighting the problem was cheaper and easier than fixing the problem,” said Christian, who is among those who say GM had plenty of warning over the years to recall the vehicles and fix the switches.
Long before the Chevrolet Cobalt became known for having a deadly ignition defect, it was already seen as a lemon. Owners complained about power steering failures, locks inexplicably opening and closing, doors jamming shut in the rain — even windows falling out.
In more than 120 instances, General Motors was forced under state lemon laws to buy back faulty Cobalts, pay settlements to owners or let them trade in the cars, an analysis by The New York Times of state databases and court records shows. The buybacks came as dozens of claims were filed separately at G.M. from 2005 to 2009 that fit a specific pattern — moving cars, sometimes traveling at high speeds, would suddenly stop working…
“There were transmission issues, issues with the clutch, engine issues, air-conditioning issues,” James Gonzales of Riverview, Fla., said of his 2006 Cobalt, which G.M. repurchased under Florida’s lemon law. “Everything went wrong with that car, and everything that went wrong needed a big fix. Mechanically, it was a huge nuisance.”…
The automaker has linked 13 deaths to the defect in Cobalts and several other models. In her prepared remarks, filed with House investigators on Monday, Ms. Barra said, “I cannot tell you why it took years for a safety defect to be announced.”
General Motors CEO Mary Barra evaded a series of pointed questions on Capitol Hill Tuesday, as members of a House panel searched for answers into why the company waited around ten years before taking drastic action to fix a defective ignition switch now linked to 13 deaths.
Many lawmakers implied that General Motors must have known that the company knew it had a serious problem, pointing out over 130 related consumer complaints from June 2003 to June 2012, litigation in which confidential settlements were reached, and a move in 2006 made by a GM engineer that slightly improved the switch without also changing the identification number. “Do you think it was a cover up or it was sloppy work?” charged Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R—Tenn.)
But Barra repeatedly dodged that line of questioning, telling lawmakers GM would be able to explain more about the delays after it completed its internal investigation opened a few weeks ago by former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas. Barra told the committee she found out about the defective ignition switch on Jan. 31 this year, after an executive committee made the recall decision. The slow response, she said, was “unacceptable.”
Fueling the outrage over the malfunction, DeGette said lawmakers obtained documents showing how GM had actually looked at possible fixes for the defect in 2005, but determined it would be too expensive to address.
The “unacceptable cost increase,” she said, turned out to be 57 cents apiece.
The congresswoman held up an ignition switch for one of the cars and said a small spring inside of it failed to provide enough force, causing the car engines to turn off when they went over a bump. DeGette showed how easy it was for a light set of keys to move the ignition out of the “run” position. That can cause the engine to stall, and the driver loses power steering and power brakes.
Asked later in the hearing about the apparent decision not to address the problem, Barra said she found it “very disturbing.”
General Motors announced on Monday that it’s recalling more than 1.3 million vehicles that may experience a sudden loss of electric power steering. GM’s new recall comes after 2.6 million vehicles were recalled earlier this year for ignition-switch problems linked to 13 deaths.
GM models involved in the new recall include Chevy Malibus, HHRs and Cobalts, Saturn Auras and IONs, as well as Pontiac G6s from model years 2004 to 2010. GM says it will replace the vehicles’ power-steering motors, steering columns, power-steering motor-control units or a combination of those free of charge, depending on the vehicle.
The 2004–07 Saturn ION, 2009–10 Chevrolet HHR and the 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt were also included in the earlier ignition-switch recall.
I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested and made to pay for their pre-meditated decision to take human lives for a lousy ten bucks. The executives at GM knew for 13 years that their cars had a defective ignition switch that would, well, kill people. But they did a “cost-benefit analysis” and concluded that paying off the deceased’s relatives was going to be cheaper than having to install a $10 part per car. They then covered up their findings and continued to let millions drive around with the defective part in their cars. There would be no recalls. There would only be parents and the decapitated body parts of their dead children. See the USA in your Chevrolet. In 2007 a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration official recommended a formal investigation but was overruled by others in Bush’s “business-friendly” Transportation Department…
The Washington Post, in an otherwise good article (posted here), blames the whole sad affair on the “corporate culture” at GM. What a user-friendly term! To even have to read the words “culture” and “General Motors” in the same sentence is enough to make anyone gag. No, the cause of this tragedy is an economic system that places profit above everything else, including — and especially — human life. GM has a legal and fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders to make the biggest profits that it can. And if their top people crunch the numbers and can show that they will save more money by NOT fixing or replacing the part, then that is what they are going to goddam well do. F*** you, f*** me, and f*** everybody they sent to their deaths. That pretty much sums up their “culture”. They knew they wouldn’t get caught, and if they did, no one would ever serve any time.
CBS Connecticut: “Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal is among those calling for GM to make a stronger statement and tell owners to stop driving their cars immediately. Blumenthal believes GM made a decision to hide the defect of ignition switches.”…
The problem is that we’ve been told for five years that General Motors was a national institution that had to be saved at all costs, including billions of taxpayer dollars. Now Democratic lawmakers are really, really eager to drop the hammer on GM for hiding the danger these cars presented to the public. That may be (and increasingly appears to be) completely justified, except the same crowd told us five years ago that all of us had to chip in to save this company, so they could keep making these cars that Blumenthal wants everyone to stop driving.
President Obama, speaking at a GM plant in Lordstown, Ohio, September 15, 2009: “That program was good for automakers, consumers, and our environment,” Obama said of the Cash for Clunkers programs, “and the Chevy Cobalt that you build here was one of GM’s most sought-after cars under that program. Dealers across the country started running out of it and needed you to build more.”
GM, you’ll recall, had to be rescued by the taxpayers in 2009, and the federal stake was so large that the company was dubbed Government Motors when it went through bankruptcy. But bankruptcy rules require a disclosure of all liabilities as well as assets. By hiding the defect in its cars, GM may have committed bankruptcy fraud.
Beyond that, the utter failure of the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency to crack down on the defective ignition switch is an embarrassing failure. But regulatory agencies are a journalistic backwater, drawing a fraction of the coverage lavished on the White House, Congress and politics.
Even so, with GM’s CEO and the acting NHTSA chief scheduled to be hauled before a Hill committee today, you’d think there would be a drumbeat on the air. Yet if there have been many great cable segments on the subject, I’ve missed them.
[GM executives] ought to be accompanied by former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, as well as “car czars” Steven Rattner and Ron Bloom, together with White House and Treasury officials who oversaw the government’s huge bailout of General Motors. Many–though not all–of the safety problems happened on their watch. In addition, LaHood and other Obama administration officials led a witch-hunt against Toyota during the same period.
It was LaHood who led the hysterical propaganda campaign against Toyota, telling the public that Toyotas were unsafe to drive because of sudden-acceleration problems. Democrats and the mainstream media piled on. Toyota did recall vehicles for a problem involving its floor mats, but the problems with Toyota’s electrical systems that were supposed to be causing its vehicles to accelerate out of control failed to materialize.
LaHood and the Obama administration attacked Toyota during a period when GM, now being run with direct input from the White House, had lost its #1 ranking in global auto sales. That was considered an urgent priority. So while the government was ignoring real and deadly safety problems at GM, it was trying to scare consumers about nonexistent problems at Toyota. The White House owes victims’ families, and the public, an explanation.
The birth mother of Amber Marie Rose, the teen whose 2005 death was the first linked to an ignition switch problem that’s triggered a massive recall of General Motors vehicles, says that through a Facebook group for families of victims, she’s identified at least 29 fatalities due to the defect. GM only acknowledges 13 deaths.
“I found 29 so far myself,” . She said she’s determined the additional fatalities using crash data, police reports or eyewitnesses [who reported] the airbags did not deploy.”