Young Owners of Low-Budget GM Cars Weren’t Worth Saving

Writer libbyliberal describes how the Obama Administration’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration worked with GM for years to cover up the automaker’s ignition system defect that would lead to sudden power system failure. That fault is estimated to have caused at least 13 deaths and over 30 crashes. Lambert described this as a textbook case of crapification:

The style of engineering that went into that part is the same as engineering washing machines so they break down in two or three year, because every component is as light and cheap as possible; there’s no redundancy because everything is optimized for profit. If you can save a penny by shaving material off, you do it.

So some MBA drove the decision making process here, and that’s worse than the engineering that was done.

But there’s an even more cynical layer to this. When GM became aware of the defect, they refused to make the tooling changes because it would cost too much. No proposed remedy “represents an acceptable business case.”

Now consider what that means. In the famed case of exploding Pintos, Ford had calculated the number of deaths that would result from retaining the inadequate gas tank shielding that made it vulnerable to rear-end crashes and the cost per death. Ford concluded it would be cheaper for them to let people die and pay damages in litigation than spend $11 per car more for a redesigned fuel tank.

Now GM is presumably too smart to have a calculation like that in its records. But the logic of the refusing to fix it is exactly the same as with the Pinto. And one of the reasons why is that these GM cars were low-budget cars, presumably purchased by low-income people. The value of a life in a lawsuit depends on the future earning stream of the person who died. So someone with a modest income really is less worth saving to a large company than more affluent customers.

By libbyliberal. Cross posted from Corrente

Michael Moore compellingly writes in “The Price Of Human Life, According To GM”:

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.

Shannon Jones in “The GM ignition scandal and the case for public ownership” lays out the horrifying details. First, that GM admits that in 2001 it was aware of the ignition problems on the Saturn Ion model but approved production nevertheless. Soon after there were many customer complaints pouring in about the ignition of the Chevrolet Cobalt.

When the engineers at GM finally proposed a fix for the ignition in 2005 (four years later) management rejected it.

In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, a GM project engineering manager closed the defect investigation because “the tooling cost and piece price are too high.” He concluded that not one of the engineers’ proposals to fix the defect “represents an acceptable business case.”

Guess what their “affordable” workaround was? Are you ready for this? GM distributed a “service bulletin” to its dealers suggesting they tell customers to remove heavy items from their key rings.

According to Jones there was a malfunction in the ignition switch which could be accidentally jarred out of position causing the engine, power steering and power brakes to shut off and the airbag system to disable. The ignition defect could not only cause one to crash, but to crash without the benefit of an airbag.

Apparently GM recognized that the ignition defect easily could be triggered with the weight of a heavy keychain. Let’s face it, it could be triggered even without the heavy keychain. But that was their “buyer beware” helpful tip? Use a light keychain and you MAY not lose your engine, brakes, steering, airbag capacity .. and your life?

The cars involved in the “defect” scandal Jones reveals were low-cost bargain models. Many of the drivers were consequently young people.

2.6 million GM vehicles have been driven by people at risk of injury because of this defect. The vehicles involved, including the ones going back to 2001, are ONLY NOW being recalled! It is 2014!

On Monday, an unrelated defect from the original ignition one but which sabotages power steering has caused 1.3 million additional GM cars to be recalled.

Jones reveals that this crime against humanity was not just perpetrated by the GM industry but with the enabling of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Jones writes:

Internal documents indicate that both GM and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the supposed government watchdog, knew for years about fatal crashes involving GM vehicles in which airbags did not deploy and the ignition switch was in the “accessory” or “off” position. Both the company and the regulator concealed these facts from the public and failed to order a recall of the affected models.

Jones regards this amoral scenario as the “sacrifice of human life on the altar of corporate profit.”

Their criminality continued to take ever more disgusting turns as more and more evidence of the dangerousness of the GM cars came to light:

In 2006, GM quietly ordered that a redesigned ignition switch be installed starting in the 2007 model year. However, it did not assign a new part number to the device, a “cardinal sin” according to one engineer quoted by Automotive News. The decision to use the same part number points again to a deliberate cover-up.

In March of 2007 the NHTSA and GM met to discuss a fatal crash that happened back in 2005 in which airbags did not deploy. Both of these organizations made the choice NOT to order a recall. The minutes of that meeting are not accessible to public scrutiny.

Jones elaborates on the mutual betrayal to the public by both corporate and government leadership:

The collusion of the NHTSA illustrates that the government functions as an arm of big business. There is an incestuous relationship between government regulators and those they supposedly regulate. In December 2013, to cite one example, NHTSA head David Strickland announced he was resigning from his post to take a job with a law firm that lobbies on behalf of the auto industry. The same corruption that was seen in the relation of regulators to BP in the Gulf oil spill and between bank regulators and Wall Street prevails in every sector of the economy.

In “General Motors CEO stonewalls House committee on ignition scandal” Shannon Jones continues on with the GM scandal story by reporting on the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing with General Motors CEO Mary Barra and David Friedman, the acting administrator of NHTSA.

Jones’s assessment:

The hearing dragged on for four hours with few penetrating questions asked and little new information revealed.

Committee members treated Barra with deference, despite her stonewalling. In her opening remarks to the committee, Barra, who was vice president of global engineering at GM in 2008-2009, denied having any knowledge until earlier this year of the ignition switch problem. She assumed the post of chief executive this past January.

Her statement, less than two pages in length, was perfunctory and vague.

She began by declaring, “Sitting here today, I cannot tell you why it took years for a safety defect to be announced in that [small car] program…” At one point she flatly stated that GM would not make available to Congress the full findings of its internal investigation of the ignition defect.

No one on the House panel suggested that she be held in contempt of Congress or that she and other top GM executives be prosecuted on criminal charges for the cover-up. Instead, committee members again and again suggested that the problem was merely a lack of communication within the company.

Jones shares some important revelations from the hearing. Barra admitted that in 2002 GM approved an ignition switch that did not “meet its specifications” but she claimed she “had no idea why.” When she was asked about the redesigned switch that was approved years later in 2006 to be installed in 2008-10 models that still did not meet specifications a defensive Barra responded: “Just because a part doesn’t meet specifications doesn’t mean it is defective.”

When Barra was asked about the 2006 new ignition switch for the Cobalt and other GM models that was not assigned a new part number and how that suggested a COVER UP, she revealed that the GM engineer who authorized the change without the new numbering was still working for the company. The House was disinclined to explore further.

Jones goes on:

Committee members cited a chain of internal emails demonstrating that the company rejected a fix of the ignition problem due to cost considerations. In one of the emails, an engineer wrote: “I was aware of an issue with ‘inadvertent ignition offs.’” However, he said, the new part would cost 90 cents while warranty costs came to only 10 or 15 cents, so the fix would have to wait another year.

One committee member pointed to a 2005 article in the New York Times reviewing the Cobalt which noted that the car suddenly went dead while being driven. At the time, a GM spokesperson said he didn’t think it was a big issue because the car was still “controllable.” Barra claimed she did not recollect the Times article.

She made much of the fact that GM has retained attorney Kenneth Feinberg as a consultant on compensation for accident victims and their families. Feinberg, a corporate lawyer, was chosen by the Bush administration to oversee compensation for victims of the 9/11 attacks. He was subsequently appointed by the Obama administration to oversee compensation to victims of the BP oil spill. In both posts he was ruthless in limiting payouts, helping BP to save billions of dollars in damage claims. In between these jobs for the ruling class he served as the so-called “pay tsar” for the government bank bailout program, enabling Wall Street executives to continue awarding themselves seven- and eight-figure compensation packages.

Finally, the House committee interviewed David Friedman. Jones:

In his appearance before the committee, NHTSA acting administrator David Friedman sought to deflect all blame onto General Motors, claiming it withheld vital information without which the agency could not launch a full investigation. He defended the decision of NHTSA not to order a recall of GM vehicles with defective ignitions, claiming the cases were too complex and involved for the agency to make a proper determination.

He made this claim despite the fact that NHTSA investigators were aware by 2007 of hundreds of customer complaints about unexpected stalling and the agency had discovered a pattern with the Cobalt and other vehicles in which airbags failed to deploy and the ignition was in the “accessory” position.

Finally, another very troubling revelation from Shannon Jones and one that should but probably won’t be echoed in corporate mainstream media is the Obama administration’s involvement in this crime.

The Obama administration is itself deeply implicated in the cover-up. After the 2009 bankruptcy and restructuring of GM, the US government was the majority shareholder in the company until November 2010 and only recently sold off its remaining stake. The White House inserted a clause holding GM harmless from product liability lawsuits stemming from before July 2009 at a time when GM management was aware of fatal accidents involving defective ignition switches.

Yes, the profoundly corrupt Bush administration failed in its regulatory responsibilities. But once again, the Democratic Obama administration has given a serious pass to corporate perpetrators of a crime against humanity. In this case, negligent homicide.

Obama and the bank bail out scandal. Obama and the BP scandal. Obama and the GM scandal. The list of disgusting examples of Obama as protector of the corporate profiteering criminal elite continues to grow.

Too bad the Obama kool aid continues to work so very effectively with too many Americans. Even Michael Moore is optimistic at the end of his article about faux-integrous mom Ms. Barra and an Obama administration that he hopes seriously will prosecute these sociopathic economic bottom-liners.

As for the Congresspeople performing for their tv sound bites, they slide on the unhappy, scolding masks while the cameras are on to try to convince the American public how much they care about its safety and general welfare. Hah! The avalanche of lobbied money the corporatists provide them discourages any serious calls for justice.

One more round of Lucy and the football with the morally bankrupt rich and powerful: the corporatists, the corporate parties’ pols and a corporate mainstream media.

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  1. JerseyJeffersonian

    Now hear this. Mistakes were made. That is all.

    I heard a radio commentator talking the other day about how “new GM might have liability for anything that happened after the restructuring, but old GM…well, anybody with a claim for anything that happened prior to that would have to get in line for whatever they can wheedle out of the depleted monies left from the bankruptcy of the original entity known as GM. But they were going to appoint a special master to deal with the shit show. Big whoop.

    Your gubmint…regulators, legislators, whatever. Working on your behalf.

    1. allcoppedout

      I think gorillas live in whoops Jersey. The powers-that-be treat us as having sub-species intelligence as a matter of routine. Whoop seems entirely apposite!

    2. David Mills

      There is a terrific equivalent they use in France – “An error has been committed…”

      1. OMF

        It’s called the past exonerative tense: “…mistakes were made…”

        Personally, I think the people who should be held to account here are the Engineers. They were the professionals; their job was to say “No.”. The young unmarried, BMW driving MBA with his father’s salary and no morals is not and will never be the decision making professional.

        That role lies with the engineers and any of those who did not hand in their notice when asked to implement this dangerous modification should now be required to hand in their engineering certifications. That may sound harsh, but accountability must start somewhere, and the professions are a keystone in enforcing standards. People need to be made examples of.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I’m no fan of MBAs, but when I went to business school, 40% had worked for a manufacturing company before going to Bschool and 20% had been engineering undergrads. And the big finance contingent were people who had spent two years getting credit officer training at a big bank, which placed a lot of emphasis downside risk.

          That imprinting seemed to keep the bad tendencies of MBAs somewhat in check.

        2. tim s

          I suppose that you also saw complete validity in the arguments for that sad teen drunk driver suffering from affluenza


          Your comment sickens me more than the actual article itself. I’m sure that there are plenty of business managers who will agree with you, however.

          A look at a day in the life of an engineer:

          Recall also that there were warnings from engineers about the solid rocket booster o-rings of the Challenger mission:

          Disclosure – I am a mechanical engineer. I see how we are seen as merely necessary geeks for the most part by business (who surprisingly enough don’t see that they may have no business without the engineers). I also see how rarely our word is rarely the final one on any topic.

          Our culture is dismissive of sound science and engineering judgement, and that is the root of the problem. To expect engineers to sacrifice themselves each and every time they are dismissed is to underestimate how this is a common occurrence in their lives.

          That being said, it is most unfortunate that the engineering profession is not more cohesive and willing to stand as a unit as a union does. Things would be VERY different, but then that is just wishful thinking given the natural introverted and often socially awkward personality that lends itself to engineering in the first place.

        3. zephyrum

          OMF wrote:
          “The young unmarried, BMW driving MBA with his father’s salary and no morals is not and will never be the decision making professional.”

          Unfortunately neither is the engineer. In the corporate world, the best an engineer can do is provide options. Just like an MBA. The evil bastards that take pride in “making the tough calls” are the ones who need to be punished. You know, the C-level types and their sycophants. There will be a reckoning.

        4. YankeeFrank

          Where were the whistle-blowers on this one? Could’ve been an engineer, or an MBA, it doesn’t matter. But someone should’ve been speaking to the press.

          We’ve known at least since I was a kid almost 30 years ago that this is how large corporations act. Nothing has changed except that government now apparently colludes with them (though I’m not sure that wasn’t happening back then as well). Until corporate officers start getting long jail sentences for these crimes nothing will change. I’m not holding my breath.

          Its long past time we rebelled against this system but apparently we’re all too fat and lazy.

          1. YankeeFrank

            I guess my main point is that we don’t need to be fighting over which cog in the machine was responsible, that’s what “they” want us to be doing. Its the machine itself that has to be put down, and the machine is upper management. Period.

  2. allcoppedout

    Our political-economic-legal systems are now socially disabling. I doubt we can now talk sensibly about what is going on. Hegel (died 1831) wrote some compelling stuff about a poor rabble and a rich rabble very similar to our circumstances today. His philosophy, of course, is either revolutionary or the basis for totalitarianism. To me, a few things he said demonstrate that the pre-scientific mind 200 years ago was grappling with conditions we haven’t managed to change today.

    Our domination by the rich is almost complete. I tend to group much of what is in this post with such as the police murder of Mr Boyd in Albuquerque and various reactions to it either as disgusted as mine or seeking to excuse it. We seem to have ‘lost’ any ability in our collective to see what is in front of our eyes, even when the data is so appalling clear as that from a cop’s lapel camera, or crapified cars ‘exploding at the turn of a key’.

    In these circumstances, I tend to see current arguments on economics as purposeful in real change and as relevant as footling over what Hegel meant, or ‘fiddling whilst Rome burns’ (even this has some interpretation as ‘what a fine chap Nero was’). Our relevance to the rich rabble is exemplified by Mr Boyd and one cannot but think they intend us all as cannon-fodder in some dire war. The profit in ages of shoddy (crapification isn’t new?) whether selling us dud cars or sending us to die for them with bullets that get wet, is a major concern of the rich rabble.

    Utilitarianism is now turned on its head as relating only to the purposes of the rich rabble, as the greater good now relies solely on the maintenance of the rich rabble, as without them we cannot provide the greater good. This renders the rest of us to a screaming monkey society in which we are forever traumatised seeing them get grapes while we scrabble for crapified scraps (monkeys scream when they get cucumber and others get grapes – chimps actually show a more collective attitude and be upset even if they get grapes when their fellows do not).

    The argument in the post will be obviously right to us, much as Mr Boyd’s death appals us. This , I’m afraid, has little to do with the price of fish. There is another rabble who believe the rich rabble necessary to our economic and social health. It’s a dirty old world and we must protect our corporations and cops to let them get on with their jobs. Judge Leo Strine even advocates the former. When we act as juries we are reluctant to convict even in cases as clearly extreme as that of Mr Boyd. I would rather die than treat another human such, or be so haplessly incompetent not to come to a peaceful solution with anyone totally outgunned and outnumbered. This said I have no sympathy with real scum and lots for cops trying to deal with them. I am still traumatised by incidents I was sent into, now all 30 years old.

    Intellectually, I feel this post both excellent and missing what data is. It is nowhere near as incisive in general argument as it is in science and we have almost no natural way of spotting it (though there are prawns, beetles and such that can navigate by the Milky Way). We lack much understanding of how our data communicates to rabbles. And even in exposing ‘dodgy cars’, we have excluded the very thing that makes cars particularly dodgy – human drivers.

    Even in teaching fairly mathematical research methods, I might want to start a bit of ground-clearing such as we can’t really interpret probabilities. The reason is we can only interpret formal systems and we don’t have one on probability. There are at least six – classical, subjective, best-system, frequency, propensity and logical. – but a class will either be running for the doors or teacher-mincing if you try any of this. So we do the stuff quants earn money using in banks. Students are already instrumental and ready-fodder to lie with a few cheap maths tricks that amount to little more than wordprocessing skills for the quant labour-market.

    This may seem a long way from cover-up on crapified cars or people killed like vermin by cops. Yet the same business of easy interpretation that has nothing to do with analysis of what the real data is goes on across the board. I take some solace in that I can look at bits from pollen grains in water under a microscope and think I am looking for a way to the stars. Madness to most, just part of relativity to a few. Our own data merely spins in our niche market, itself including people who make livings from its spin.

    The simple data is we are under the thumb.

  3. anon

    With the recent Supreme Court ruling opening the door for unlimited cash spending, and making corporations people, what do you expect. They own the place.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Marginally it makes no difference as our politicians were already fairly cheap, out of reach for small citizen groups but cheap none the less. Ideally, this could just serve as a tax with a shot in the arm for local ad revenues. It will be easier to identify the worst of the worst.

  4. John

    Pretty effective take down on Team Obama protecting corporate interests at any and all costs.

  5. Cal

    Sounds like a lot like Carly Fiorina’s destruction of H.P. but with fatalities instead of frustrations.

  6. cnchal

    The MSM never mentioned the NHTSA involvement and subsequent cover up of seven years ago. I don’t wonder why.

    From what I have seen regarding this part and the modifications made to fix this problem, a longer spring, and the fact that the new parts were not given a new number (a cardinal sin) leads me to speculate that tooling to make the part that accepts the spring was modified instead of built new from scratch.

    In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, a GM project engineering manager closed the defect investigation because “the tooling cost and piece price are too high.” He concluded that not one of the engineers’ proposals to fix the defect “represents an acceptable business case.”

    In one of the emails, an engineer wrote: “I was aware of an issue with ‘inadvertent ignition offs.’” However, he said, the new part would cost 90 cents while warranty costs came to only 10 or 15 cents, so the fix would have to wait another year.

    Something happened to fix this problem, and it would not be the first time an undocumented tooling change was buried in other work orders. It would not surprise me if a mid level engineer just tried to do the right thing by addressing this without bringing it to upper managements attention, considering all the resistance to a fix from them in the previous years.

    It is a tragedy that people lost their lives to this stupidity, and the subsequent coverup is criminal, from GM and the NHTSA. Since corporations have achieved person hood, when is GM going to be put in prison, and when are the NHTSA bureaucrats responsible for colluding with GM going to join GM there?

  7. Banger

    This story got a collective shrug of the shoulders from the media, from Congress, the Administration and, most of all, the public. If those people listed can’t even display concern about climate change and ecological damage that increases every year then why should they care about some highway fatalities. Americans at all levels have become passive and fatalistic how that has happened is what we ought to be focused on.

    1. different clue

      Jeff Wells at the Rigorous Intuition 2.0 blog has tried offering answers to parts of that development. He would be a place to start. Ian Welsh often writes about what is missing in the public/polity/whatever. I’m not sure he quite gets into how it became missing.

      The book Brainwashing From Pavlov To Powers by Edward S. Hunter could also shed a lot of light on how the process was designed and applied by the social engineers and the mass behavioral engineers and their bosses and boss-classes.

  8. ep3

    “So some MBA drove the decision making process here, and that’s worse than the engineering that was done.”
    Oh Yves, this is all the fault of the overpaid union and its workers. They stifle innovation and creativity. If Gm did not have that huge pension liability to deal with, they wouldn’t have to skimp on other areas of safety.
    And once Gm gets rid of its pension liability, then if it can do away with environmental obstacles, then it won’t have to skimp on safety.
    Then once any environmental obstacles are taken care of, then GM can work to remove the burden of safety regulations, so that they don’t have to skimp…on…safety..?
    (heavy sarcasm above)

    1. allcoppedout

      Excellent ep3. Always good to see a screwtape like me in action. In snark you have actually described neo-liberal reasoning.

  9. EricT

    I fail to see the problem here. The world is imperfect, and GM is a very large company, problems happen all the time, cars are complex machines and solutions can get lost in the shuffle. To have only 13 fatalities out of 2.6 million vehicles over 14 years is more akin to lottery odds. I find it saddening that the media and Congress is freaking out about this, and couldn’t even give 2 wits about GW’s illegal invasion that brought about 100’s of thousands of easily preventable deaths, or Anthropologic Climate change, or the tobacco industry( whom knew their product killed ). I think the mountain they are building here regarding GM wouldn’t be an issue if Obama wasn’t the one who bailed GM out. It seems the narrative that is evolving here, is that the Republicans felt that GM should have died, Obama bailed them out, and the Republicans are trying to say, “See, we were right, they should have died, engineering problem that they refused to take care of, and bad union companies should die.”, end of scene. The deaths associated with the problem were a tragedy, but the biggest atrocity that is occurring is that someone is trying to make this into a media frenzy. Oh yeah, Benghazi!

    1. P FitzSimon

      I tend to agree with you. While 13 people died as a result of this defect, in the same time frame over 200,000 people were killed in automobiles with about 3000 children killed or injured after being run over by parents in their own driveway. The visibility problem in SUVs and other cars will be fixed with rear cameras in 2018 at a cost of about $140/car and will save an estimated 69 lives per year. The level of hypocrisy here is extraordinary. We all have made a faustian bargain with technology we just don’t like to think about it.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        What in the world are you trying to say? That passing on 140 dollars in additional cost per car to the consumer will save 69 kids per year means that anyone who feels that GM or Ford or whoever should spend 90 cents per car to save almost 1 person per year is a hypocrite? Who is saying that or anything like it? It’s difficult to find anything in your statement that makes any sense, common or otherwise.

        What ever it is you are smoking, please do it where others won’t get as sick as you.

        1. P FitzSimon

          What I’m saying is that auto companies, government regulators and much of the public know that there are many fixable problems that don’t get fixed because of cost and indifference. How much are you willing to spend to decrease the death rate from 40,000 to about 6000 per year which could be done if the will were there?

    2. Garrett Pace

      What’s troubling isn’t GM in particular, but that this is the new normal. Or the old one, trading lives for money, carried on in the name of profit. As you describe, there’s plenty of cold, actuarial thinking going on – in the halls of power, corporate boardrooms, and even the minds of citizens as they clamor their willingness to trade lives for 80 mph speed limits. Why you think it’s somehow less odious at GM just because of “only 13 fatalities” boggles my mind though.

      1. Lyle

        But actuarial thinking is the only objective way to look at it. Face it a life has value else we would not be able to sue for wrongful death. (as well as buy life insurance). The government is required by law to do cost benefit analysis and in cases where lives could be saved by some action, a cost of a lost life must be used to compare the cost. To take an absurd example assume that I were to propose to spend 10,000 per car on the 16 million cars to save one life that would place a value of roughly 1% of US gdp on one life. I think very few would be willing to spend that amount of money. In government circles its roughly 6 million per life, while gdp per capita is 45k about.
        Given the example I gave unless one says money is no object in saving lives, one must make objective decisions on the value of a life. Given that with an average wage of 50k a year and a 60 year working life that would say 3 million is about the number today (avoiding discounting for the future i.e. a dollar today is worth more than a dollar 40 years from now).

        1. Lambert Strether

          You’re not saying life has value. You’re saying life has a price. You’re also saying that people with, er, no skin in the game aren’t so consumed by keeping their skins out of the game that they can make “objective decisions” about the lives of others.

          Both claims seem questionable to me, though I freely admit I don’t have a worked alternative to actuarial thinking.

          NOTE Anyhow, I doubt very much that actuarial thinking was at work at GM. Some MBA asshole wanted to save a nickel, and did. The tell is that the el cheapo part that caused the deaths, and the redesigned, more rugged, and non-lethal part both had the same part number, making the change invisible on paper, and really visible only to the grunts who did the actual repairs (who obviously don’t count). GM clearly had something to hide.

          (The broader implication is that GM’s parts database is corrupt, since there is no longer a one-to-one mapping from database entities to real world entities, given that the same primary key, the part number, addresses two different things. One can only wonder how widespread the practices revealed by this issue are. Some clever lawyer should ask that question.)

    3. Lyle

      To boot if you ever drove a car with a carburetor when it was humid, the temp was in the 30s and the engine was cold you had the experience of the engine just stopping and how hard to steer it was. That used to happen a lot with older cars. However it does not happen now due to fuel injection, so folks don’t have the experience older drivers did. Perhaps they need to add the experience of killing the engine to drivers ed so folks understand about the situation. Note that due to interlocks the key did not go to lock which locks the steering wheel. (I had the engine stop while drivng a lot in the 1970s due to the carburetor iceing issue)
      Its sort of like the Toyota runaway issue of a few years ago, the simple solution there is netural, perhaps the engine will self destruct but you will not be killed. The interlocks don’t prevent shifting into neutral without a foot on the brake. (They do prevent shifting into reverse, although as I understand it if you had your foot on the brake and shifted into reverse it would kill the engine automatically.)

    4. just me

      GM and GWB–> Iraq tied at the hip: “The murder was committed by the General Motors Company.”

      Obama more of same. From Shannon Jones, quoted above:

      The GM ignition scandal and the case for public ownership

      The Obama administration is itself deeply implicated in the cover-up. After the 2009 bankruptcy and restructuring of GM, the US government was the majority shareholder in the company until November 2010 and only recently sold off its remaining stake. The White House inserted a clause holding GM harmless from product liability lawsuits stemming from before July 2009 at a time when GM management was aware of fatal accidents involving defective ignition switches.

  10. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit

    So, as I understand this, a corrupt creature of the State (a corporation) demonstrated a depraved indifference to human life, and had another corrupt creature of the State (a regulatory body) assist it in avoiding consequences.

    However, any libertarian who, in full awareness of Lord Acton’s admonishment, suggests that the solution to the problem is more personal responsibility and consequences and less State interference in human affairs is a complete and utter nutcase.

  11. Garrett Pace

    As I read this, I wonder at how costly this sort of thing is to an auto manufacturer’s reputation. Is their marketing so effective that people don’t even care that GM would rather you die than spend ten dollars to fix your car?

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      If you think about it, most of the cost is passed on to the consumer in the form of taxes for bail-outs (protection from going bankrupt due to competition from actual car manufacturers) and cost of corruption (buying off regulatory agencies and government oversight), probably on a per car basis.

  12. Jazzbuff

    For any lawyers here: could a local DA in the jurisdiction a person was killed bring negligent homicide, or manslaughter charges against people at GM?

  13. Sorcha

    One big question that remains is that Mary Barra is a GM lifer. According to wikipedia, she has held many roles and “in February 2008 she became Vice President of Global Manufacturing Engineering”. So it took six years for her to “find out” about this issue. Perhaps she’s interested in a bridge that I’m selling?

  14. E.L. Beck

    After having worked as an automotive journalist for some 15 years, I have a pretty good sense of how automakers think, and parts of this thinking are disclosed here in the post. But while Ford pulled a dark bait-and-switch on Pinto buyers (“our cheap vehicle for your life”), both GM and Toyota are doing the same thing in plain sight.

    GM’s airbag debacle likely has less to do with faulty ignition switches and more to do with either a) faulty impact sensors or b) faulty airbag modules. I vote for the airbag modules since they would be extremely expensive and time consuming to replace (the dealers’ service technicians are the ones actually performing the recall service and outside of the airbag module on the steering wheel, the rest are more difficult to remove and replace). With the proper factory service tools, ignition switches can be replaced at far less cost, and far less time to remove and replace. The switches are acting as scapegoats, allowing GM to “take action” on the recall without solving the real – and more expensive – problem.

    Toyota pulled the same switch, using accelerator pedals and floor mats as the scapegoat for its sudden acceleration problems. Here, there was probably only one culprit to be had, the vehicle’s central computer, otherwise known as an electronic control module. While much more easier to replace than assorted airbags, the ECM is one of the most expensive parts in a vehicle. Pulling a recall on ECMs would have represented an astronomical cost to Toyota. My guess is that inside the DoJ’s $1.2 billion settlement resides a release of future liability on further sudden acceleration problems, making that billion-dollar settlement look pretty cheap to Toyota.

    And I don’t believe GM has come clean regarding all of its models suffering airbag problems. As I was driving to Chicago in the spring of 2007, I had to stop for a traffic light in the middle of nowhere. While waiting, two cars passed through the light, but the third vehicle, a mid-size GM SUV, was not so lucky: As the driver moved through the intersection, a semi truck, heading in the direction opposite of mine, careened through the light at full speed, meaning he never saw that it was red. No doubt he was wired out of his head on uppers, and doctoring the logs so that he could stay on the road and keep his job.

    I later checked the nearest town’s newspaper site, and discovered the 60-something woman driving the SUV was killed upon impact. Having seen in front of me what a semi turning 60+ mph can do to a vehicle, that wasn’t beyond belief. But buried in the story was a short sentence that read “the airbags did not deploy.” Reflecting back, even if the woman had a 20 pound key ring shoved into the ignition, I find it hard to believe it would have had the time to accidentally turn off the ignition switch and power down the system during the microseconds of a side impact. Hell, even the factory service manuals recommend waiting at least 10 seconds after disconnecting the battery and unplugging the airbag fuse before attempting to remove an airbag module. Even the residual electrical charge can accidentally fire off an airbag.

    Eventually, GM will also pay a seemingly hefty fine to the DoJ as part of its settlement on the airbag issue, and again it is likely to contain wording that releases GM from future liability on this recall.

    The cost of doing business indeed.

  15. Tyson

    Pacific Gas & Electric also decided that it was much more important to divert safety funds to increase corporate executive compensation. This diversion led to an explosion in San Bruno, CA that killed 12 and leveled a neighborhood.

    The company is now facing ‘criminal charges’ yet not a single decision maker for the company are facing any criminal charges.

    Corporations are people until the mother-of-all-f’ups occurs and the snakes directly responsible slither away under corporate anonymity.

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