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Brett Emison
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Safety Took Backseat At General Motors

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General MotorsA new article by AP auto writer Tom Krisher has documented how safety took a backseat at General Motors in the decade before GM recalled more than 10 million vehicles due to deadly safety defects.  Krisher looked at GM’s corporate organizational structure.  He found that GM’s director of vehicle safety was four rungs down the ladder from the CEO.

GM’s structure and its culture that placed profits and cost savings over safety is expected to be a prime target of a report expected from the US Attorney Anton Valukas.

“What’s a higher priority than product safety?” asks Yale University management and law professor Jonathan Macey….  “The organization chart does obviously reflect a company’s priorities.”

Before recalls, safety was low in GM hierarchy [Krisher via The Kansas City Star]

GM documents show the company learned about its ignition switch defects by at least 2001.  Instead of fixing the problem, GM hid the problem and threatened injured victims who dared bring claims against the company.

GM finally recalled the defective vehicles this year and has recalled more than 16 million vehicles worldwide, including:

  • 2005-2010 Chevy Cobalt
  • 2003-2007 Saturn Ion
  • 2007-2010 Pontiac G5
  • 2006-2011 Chevrolet HHR
  • 2006-2010 Pontiac Solstice
  • 2006-2010 Saturn Sky

The defect permits the ignition to shut down the vehicle while in motion, which not only cuts off power steering and braking, but turns off the air bag… eliminating a critical safety feature during a period of crisis.

GM Ignition Timeline

GM could have fixed the defect for less than a dollar.  One estimate put the cost at just 57 cents.  But GM did not fix the problem because it determined that the fix cost too much.  It was cheaper to let people die.  And how many people died?  GM says 13 people died.

An independent review by Reuters news service says at least 74 people died from the ignition defect.

At least 74 people have died in General Motors cars in accidents with some key similarities to those that GM has linked to 13 deaths involving defective ignition switches, a Reuters analysis of government fatal-crash data has determined. Such accidents also occurred at a higher rate in the GM cars than in top competitors’ models, the analysis showed.

Reuters searched the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), a national database of crash information submitted by local law-enforcement agencies, for single-car frontal collisions where no front air bags deployed and the driver or front-seat passenger was killed.

- Exclusive: At least 74 dead in crashes similar to those GM linked to faulty switches [Ryan McNeil and Paul Lienert at Reuters]

Reuters compared the safety performance of the Chevy Cobalt and Saturn Ion (two GM vehicles involved in the ignition switch recall).  The Saturn Ion was 6 times more likely to have a fatal accident (frontal collision were no front air bags deployed) than a Toyota Corolla and twice as likely to have a fatal crash than a Ford Focus.  The Chevy Cobalt was also more likely to have a fatal crash than other comparable vehicles.

The safety folks at NHTSA were inclined to agree:

NHTSA Acting Administrator David Friedman told Reuters: “The final death toll associated with this safety defect is not known to NHTSA, but we believe it is likely that more than 13 lives were lost.”

© Copyright 2014 Brett A. Emison

Follow @BrettEmison on Twitter.

 

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