On June 18, 2014, General Motors’ (GM) CEO, Mary Barra, was put in the “hot seat” by the House Energy and Commerce Committee to come up with a resolution to compensate the families of victims who were injured or killed due to faulty ignition switches in various GM vehicles. Barra, who has been the CEO for less than a year, has been a longtime employee of GM. While some think that Barra’s experience allows her to have the intimate knowledge needed to fix the current problems, others argue that she may be too close and an outsider is needed to make serious and significant changes to the company faced with millions of recalled vehicles.
Just days before Barra’s meeting with lawmakers on June 18th, Barra announced, on behalf of GM, that an additional 3.2 million vehicles were recalled due to the possibility of vehicles inadvertently shutting off if keys carried extra weight. Barra’s news rattled lawmakers and GM drivers, as GM had recalled 2.6 million vehicles with faulty ignition switches just four months prior.
Investigations Reveal Problems at GM
In both recent recall events, GM vehicles, such as the Chevrolet Cobalt, have lost power to the vehicle itself, which also disabled the airbags when the key turned to the off position on its own. In the earlier recall, including the 2.6 million vehicles, the issue was linked to 13 deaths. In the most recent recall, including over 3 million vehicles, the ignition issue can be caused by excess weight on the key ring, combined with a bump from railroad tracks, a pothole, or other uneven surfaces on the roadway.
GM has come under increased scrutiny for its recall practices, due to the mishandling of the Cobalt defect. Investigations conducted by an outside law firm at GM’s behest found that the company approved designs that did not meet its own safety specifications, and did not properly document the steps taken to fix the problem. The lack of coordination led to the delay of the recall for more than 10 years, and a Congressional enquiry once it was finally issued.
GM Attempts to Change and Barra’s Proposed Resolution
Some see the current round of recalls as GM’s attempt to show that things have changed at the company. New positions have been announced for safety, and 15 people have been fired or otherwise left over the recall problems. Ray DeGiorgio, who designed the ignition switches on the Cobalt and the cars in the current recall, was among them. While termination may be a good start to solving the ongoing problem at GM, it does not offer any restitution for the families of innocent victims killed in crashes related to the defects.
In her most recent meeting, Barra explained that a GM compensation fund will cover all victims who suffered a serious injury or families of the victims who were killed. While Barra did not reveal how much victims could expect to receive, she said the compensation fund would not be capped. Additionally, Barra revealed that car owners, who lost the value of their vehicle as a result of the 2.6 million recalls, would not be part of the compensation fund. The fund was set up to compensate for the loss of 13 lives, due to a faulty switch.
The Bigger Picture: Fatalities and Injuries
While Barra appears to be attempting to make amends and take responsibility for a company who has disappointed American drivers, she is maintaining that only 13 deaths were a result of the faulty ignition switch while congressmen and grieving families challenge her.
U.S. Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado, during the recent hearing with Barra, suggested that there could be as many, if not more than, 100 deaths linked to the faulty ignition switch. DeGette’s estimate is based from interviews with GM employees and investigators from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), as well as access to GM documents given to DeGette’s staff and the House committee.
While GM seems to be sticking with their statistics, which include 13 deaths and 54 accidents, it is only a matter of time before more fatalities and injuries are revealed; especially when victims come forward to seek compensation from GM’s compensation fund.
Recently reported defects are not the first time that GM has faced responsibility for drivers’ deaths. In March 2014, a reported 303 drivers of Chevrolet Cobalt (2005-2007) and Saturn Ion (2003-2007) were killed when their airbags failed to open.
Additional Information for GM Drivers
GM plans to simply rework or replace the keys to prevent an inadvertent vehicle shutdown. The models covered by the most recent recall are:
- 2005 to 2009 Buick Lacrosse
- 2006 to 2014 Chevrolet Impala
- 2000 to 2005 Cadillac Deville
- 2004 to 2011 Cadillac DTS
- 2006 to 2011 Buick Lucerne
- 2004 to 2005 Buick Regal LS and GS
- 2006 to 2011 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
While the recalls do alert consumers to the safety problems of the cars involved, there has been some backlog in fixing the defects as most of the recalled cars are no longer produced. Only 7% of Cobalts have been fixed since the recall four months ago, partly due to a lack of parts. GM is hoping to increase production of the parts soon in order to meet demand.