This week, we didn’t learn much more about the General Motors (GM) faulty ignition switch. What we did learn is that GM has a big problem on its hand and no viable way to provide a solution.
Flashback to 2001. GM first discovers a defect during pre-production of the now-retired Saturn Ion. The problem was the Ion’s ignition switch turned out a few hairs shorter than planned. The defect might seem harmless, but it could actually turn off the car’s engine and prevent the vehicle’s air bags from deploying.
GM reported a service technician fixed the problem two years later, but the switch issue resurfaced again in 2004. For a fix, GM introduced a proposal but deemed it as a bad business investment due to the price tag. Even after a head engineer recommended a full fix was necessary — the same year — GM denied the fix.
The Cobalt is just one of Chevrolet’s makes with a faulty engine switch
The first reported death, now linked to the faulty switch, occurred in 2005 when Maryland teenager Amber Rose died after her Chevrolet Cobalt crashed into a tree after the ignition automatically turned off. Additionally, the Cobalt’s airbags did not deploy. The Cobalt was another vehicle GM determined at risk for the faulty engine switch issue in 2004.
Before Rose’s death, GM sent a notice to dealers saying drivers should remove “… unessential items from their key chain” to prevent the engine switch issue from occurring. No recall was issued until February 13, 2014. Nearly 750,000 vehicles were recalled, including 2005-2007 Cobalts and 2007 Pontiac G5s. Then a month later, another 1.5 million additional GM vehicles were recalled.
The company’s new CEO Mary Barra testified in front of a Congressional committee earlier this week. Barra is said to have learned about the defect at the end of January 2014, eight days before the company officially notified the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration the defects relate to the safety of the vehicle.
There’s a problem with GM. And it lies in the fact that Barra is their scapegoat. This week she was thrown to the dogs and GM just sat back and watched. But they know the truth now just like they knew the truth then. Barra, I believe, it innocent in this. Her only issue is she’s now the face of the company, so any bullets that come toward it, she must jump in front of. That’s part of the job description.
To date, GM is responsible for more than a dozen (confirmed) deaths all thanks to a poor business decision. Instead of fixing all of their vehicles, they decided to let the vehicles sit idle. They figured that not that many lives would be lost to raise too many questions. After all, that would be so much cheaper than a full fix on more than two million vehicles. At fifty-seven cents a pop, those little springs could put the company under again. Smell another bailout?
The fact is GM acted fiscally responsible but ethically irresponsible. What they did cannot be undone. Those lives will not come back and the we-told-you-sos do not matter anymore. This is a company that is still trying to makeover itself since the government bailout. GM’s poor decision is going to be the pinnacle of Barra’s impression on the American consumer. A company once viewed as a leader in the automotive industry is now seen as a question mark. GM survived the recession, but can they survive an internal problem of their own making?