GM’s Ignition Switch Recall Blunder – Fines, Lawsuits and More

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UPDATE from Federal safety regulators today sent a 27-page letter to General Motors requesting detailed information and documents related to its investigation of whether the automaker waited too long before recalling 1.6 million vehicles last month.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave GM until April 3 to answer 107 questions about the recall, many of which could require hundreds of pages in response. The recall covers 2005-07 Chevrolet Cobalts, 2003-07 Saturn Ions and five other nameplates.

A federal investigation has been launched to review GM’s handling of a 9 year gap between discovering a problem and issuing a recall. With 1.6 million vehicles involved and 13 people believe to have died, GM is “real sorry.” That’s not quite going to cut it.

GM's Ignition Switch Recall Blunder - Fines, Lawsuits and More

The ignition switch on this 2007 Pontiac G5 could fail. This failure would turn off the vehicle and could stop the air bags from deploying in an accident. While that’s bad, what’s worse is how long GM waited to recall the vehicles affected.

In case you missed the news, GM has a issued a recall for an ignition switch failure on 1.6 million Chevrolet, Pontiac, Saturn and Opel vehicles. Initially, this recall was for Chevy Cobalt and Pontiac G5 sedans. It has since grown to include more models. Here is a recap of the recall from GM.

The problem: The ignition switch is not sturdy enough, so the key can be jostled out of the “run” position by a heavy key chain or the motion of a car running off the road, cutting power to the car and potentially causing the airbags not to deploy in a crash.
The fix: GM will send a letter to owners the week of March 10, with the first parts available in early April. Until then, owners are advised to use the ignition key with nothing else attached.
Affected models: 2003-07 Saturn Ion, 2005-07 Chevrolet Cobalt, 2006-07 Chevrolet HHR, 2006-07 Pontiac Solstice, 2007 Saturn Sky, 2007 Pontiac G5; 2005-06 Pontiac Pursuit (Canada only), 2007 Opel GT (Europe only)
Scope of recall: 1.6 million cars, including 1.4 million in the United States
Known incidents: 31 frontal crashes in which 13 front-seat passengers died.

As the story goes, GM was made aware of the problem through field reports back in 2005. The following year, GM changed the design and approved changes by supplier Delphi Mechatronics. Yet, the change didn’t happen until the 2007 model year. That isn’t so bad. What’s bad is that GM didn’t start “a formal inquiry into a cluster of crashes of cars from 2007 and earlier in which the airbags did not deploy,” until 2011 according to an story.

Now that the “cat is out of the bag,” GM has been releasing statements that it is a “changed” company and they are taking a hard look at how this happened. goes on to say that they don’t want to repeat the “backlash from the Toyota unintended-acceleration crisis” and is hoping for a more “contrite tone.”

“The process employed to examine this phenomenon was not as robust as it should have been,” GM North America President Alan Batey said in a statement last week. “Today’s GM is committed to doing business differently and better. We will take an unflinching look at what happened and apply lessons learned here to improve going forward.”

The NHTSA has since gotten involved and has launched an investigation. If the agency finds that GM didn’t move in a timely manner to recall the cars with the flaw, GM could face fines up to $35 million.

Seems pretty darn likely GM will be fined. We can’t imagine the NHTSA could find that GM moved in a timely manner.

Now GM is in full damage control mode. The last few years, they have been working hard to change their image and drop the Government Motors moniker. This type of gaffe could further damage that brand and it seems fairly likely that there will be some senior manager shakeup.

Why would I say that? That is pretty much what Batey wrote in a USA Today op-ed piece that ran last week.

“We want our customers to hold GM and our vehicles to a high standard,” Batey wrote. “If we don’t measure up, there is a senior leadership team in place that is not afraid to act to make things better.”

Sorry Mr. Batey, we don’t think you measure up. Do you?

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Filed Under: Auto News


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  1. mk says:

    I agree, GM is and always has been in THEIR eyes ABOVE the law. Even when I worked for them in the 90’s for 6 LONG years, they thought their _hit did not stink and I ignored it long enough and left. Mgmt. wouldn’t listen to pions and refused to and thought they were above us office workers. Little did they know us pions were making them look good all these years and they, not us, reaped the rewards with outrageous bonuses unlike us being non-union.

    Our Branch Manager was old school and an ex-marine he wouldn’t listen being just what I call a ‘suite’ worker and when he retired we got a lady sales mgr. who got the job am sure by sleeping with the higher ups since she was loose and liked to smooze if you catch my drift.

    So, after having been thru all of that wasting 6 years of my life just earning a paycheck, I have come to learn that corporate GM is and always will be thinking they are above the law NOT willing to listen to their co-workers much less the general public.

    GM claims they have turned it around yet we see GM trucks still made in Mexico for cheap labor and U.S. ‘suite’ workers ignoring in corp. Detroit everyone still.

    • Anonymous says:

      I get your point and support your view with one exception.

      they, not us, reaped the rewards with outrageous bonuses

      The total funds out to the workers are way, way beyond anything the management got paid. It’s the CEO who really rakes in the big pay package and there is only one and it is way to much as you say. We can make the same statement about the UAW management but people seldom do.

      I will also say that as a stock holder of many companies management is so overpaid it’s immoral. In most cases I vote against boards who grant these pay packages.

      Any job I ever had as an engineer, management was never interested in our opinions. So I too left and stared working for myself.

      How strange is it that after 100 years of building 100s of millions of autos, they can’t get an ignition switch right.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It’s not really that GM is “above the law”; it’s that “they are the law”. As a government entity it is a little difficult for them to “fine themselves” so that all we see is a public show of events. This is the deep state.

  3. Mickey says:

    Agree mk. What taught me was the 06 Silverado I had and what they did to fix it. Never listen to me as a customer. Even the area rep accused me of pulling down my headliner on a $36k truck. When he finally did what I asked him the headliner fell after the 3rd time of opening my driver’s door. Needless to say how humble he was and couldn’t/wouldn’t look me into the eye. You know GM isn’t the only company that people pile on keys. Why none of the rest? Faithful GM supporters blame those with extra keys.

  4. Randy says:

    So the fine GM will receive from the NHTSA will be $35 million. At least that is the first estimates by the press.

    The number of individuals held responsible at GM for the fraud? Zero – 0

    The number of individuals held responsible at the NHSTA for the cover up? Zero – 0

    How much will it cost GM? Zero – $0

    So what is the total cost to GM, the number of individuals held accountable in this fraud? The answer is zero for it all.

    The $35 million will be printed by the Federal Reserve and just given to GM to pay the fine. Even with the loss of life and the injuries, the rich become richer and the poor poorer.

    This fraud and corruption by a government/corporate entity will not be reported by NBC, CBS, ABC or FOX.

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