I've been posting the GM Ignition fiasco in the Recall thread where it belongs, but it appears the rabbit hole goes deeper (years) than initially thought. Created a seperate thread for the GM Ignition Recall Woes until the matter settles down and then we can merge into the 2014 Recall Thread. Until then please post and discuss all matter related to this GM fiasco in this thread!
Investigation reveals GM's Mary Barra knew of trouble in 2011
An investigation into ignition-switch defects in several General Motors vehicles revealed Friday the company's current CEO knew of trouble with the models as early as 2011.
One of the two Congressional subcommittees probing GM released an email that showed Mary Barra received a letter warning of steering problems associated with certain models of the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion, two of the cars recalled in February because they contained a deadly flaw.
It remains unclear how – or if – the steering problem mentioned in the email relates to the ignition-switch defect, which has caused at least 13 deaths and 31 crashes. Rep. Fred Upton, the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, cautioned "there's much left to examine." General Motors did not return a request for comment Friday afternoon.
The email in question, sent on Oct. 3, 2011 by GM engineer Terry Wojchowski, warned Barra the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had upgraded an investigation of Saturn Ions over a "heightened concern that a sudden loss of electric power steering could cause crashes."
At the time, the federal safety agency had 846 related complaints on file, and the email says GM had almost 3,500 of its own regarding that problem. While the link is not definitive, a sudden loss of electric power steering would be one symptom of the ignition-switch problem, in which the switch inadvertently moves from the "run" to "accessory" positions, and turns off the engine, electrical systems such as steering, and safety systems like airbags.
"This situation has been evolving," Wojchowski wrote to Barra. "We will meet and understand the latest data."
It is unclear if or when that meeting took place, and Barra's response is not part of the documents released by the House subcommittee Friday.
NHTSA regulators argued the Ion should have been included in an earlier recall to fix steering failures in more than one million Chevy Cobalts and Pontiac G5s in 2010. But the email says, "GM had resisted the Cobalt and G5 recall, saying that even if the power assist suddenly failed, the driver would be able to control the car, although it would take more effort to turn the wheel."
Earlier this month, Barra testified before Congress that she did not know of the ignition-switch problem until January of this year, when she became CEO. In 2011, she served as GM's executive vice president of global product development.
Two Congressional committees, the Department of Justice and NHTSA have all launched investigations of GM's response to the ignition-switch problem in recent weeks, searching for answers on why the company, which knew about the fatal flaw in 2001, took no action to recall more than 2.5 million affected vehicles until this February.
"Mary Barra has approached the situation with a desire to uncover the truth and be very forthright," said Karl Brauer, a senior industry analyst with Kelley Blue Book. "We don't know how close she was to any of these problems in her prior roles. We'll have to wait until all the documents are reviewed before making any final judgments."
Earlier Friday, five US senators said General Motors has conducted itself in a "fraudulent and reprehensible" manner, and urged the US Justice Department to act on behalf of those injured and killed by the defective ignition switches.
The five Democrats sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, asking that the Department of Justice intervene in pending civil actions against the automaker on behalf of victims and require the company to establish a fund that would compensate victims.
The number of lawsuits related to the ignition-switch defect is not immediately known, although NHTSA asked the company to provide that information as part of its response to a query that was supposed to be answered by April 3.
A central concern expressed by the senators is the possibility GM's 2009 bankruptcy would shield the company from legal responsibility for its defective products.
"Like many Americans, we were appalled and astonished by GM's recent admission that it knew of these disabling defects and their disastrous effects well before the 2009 reorganization," read the letter, signed by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. Ed Markey, (D-MA), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA). "Their deliberate concealment caused continuing death and damage, and it constituted a fraud on the bankruptcy court that approved its reorganization. It also criminally deceived the United States government and the public."
GM recalling 778,000 Cobalts and G5s, six deaths reported
General Motors has announced that it will be recalling 778,562 compact cars after six people were killed in accidents, partially due to the airbags' failure to deploy. An issue with the ignition switch is causing the airbag issues, as well as causing the engine and other components to shut off without warning. The recall covers the 2005 to 2007 model year Chevrolet Cobalt and 2007 Pontiac G5. (Note that the Cobalt pictured above is a 2009 model.)
According to a report from Automotive News, a number of factors can cause the ignition to switch out of the run position, including weights on the key ring, rough or bumpy roads or other "jarring" events. Any of these situations could lead to some vehicle components not functioning properly.
There have been five fatal front-impact crashes that took the lives of six people, although as a GM spokesman noted, all five of the crashes happened off road and at high speed. In each of these cases, though, the lack of airbags wasn't the only lethal factor - alcohol and failure to wear a seat belt also played a role. Outside of the fatal accidents, there have been 17 other crashes where airbags didn't deploy. It's unclear if any of these crashes were caused by the engine shutting off.
According to AN, GM is contacting dealers to report to their local dealership for a new ignition switch. Naturally, all work will be done free of charge (presumably, Pontiac owners will need to report to Chevy dealers). Customers that haven't or aren't able to report for service, meanwhile, are being asked to remove "non-essential items" from their key rings. 619,122 of the affected cars are registered in the US, while 153,310 are up north, in Canada. South of the border, 6,130 cars are affected.
GM knew about fatal Chevy ignition problem decade before recall
Well, this is not good for General Motors. Following a report last week that GM was recalling 778,000 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 compacts over concerns that the ignition could switch out of the "run" position without warning, USA Today reports that the Detroit-based behemoth knew about the issue, which affected 2005 to 2007 Cobalts (the Cobalt shown above and in the gallery is from 2010) and 2007 Pontiac G5s, all the way back in 2004.
The information comes from a deposition in a civil lawsuit against GM, obtained by USA Today, which claims that a GM engineer experienced the issue while the then-new model was undergoing testing. The issue was "solved" when a technical service bulletin was issued in 2005, informing dealers to install a snap-on key cover on the cars of customers who complained about the issue. According to the Cobalt's program engineering manager, Gary Altman, the cover was an "improvement, it was not a fix to the issue."
The case where the depositions were made was from 2010, and involved Brooke Melton, a 29-year-old pediatric nurse in Georgia who was killed on her birthday. At the time, police claimed she was going too fast on a wet, rural road, although it later came out through the black box that her car's ignition had come out of the "run" position at least three seconds before the accident (the max amount of time a black box records before a wreck), disabling her airbags, power steering and anti-lock brakes. According to USA Today, police said Melton was "traveling too fast for the roadway conditions," although it's impossible to know if she'd have been in the wreck, which injured the occupants of another vehicle, had her 2005 Chevy not shut off. GM settled the Melton family's case, although the details remain confidential.
As we reported last week, GM knew of 22 crashes relating to the ignition issue and six deaths that came from "frontal-impact crashes." According to USA Today, GM wouldn't say whether Melton was one of the six known deaths, as she wasn't in a frontal-impact accident.
GM adds four models to recall, doubles deaths to 13
James R. Healey and Fred Meier, USA TODAY 6:10 p.m. EST February 25, 2014
General Motors has linked seven more deaths to its faulty ignition switch recall and added to the recall the other four GM cars using the same switch as the Chevy Cobalt and Pontiac G5 cars recalled Feb. 13.
GM on Tuesday increased the number of deaths it links to the problem from six to 13 and the number of crashes from 22 to 31 as it expanded the recall by more than 748,024 vehicles to more than 1.37 million in the U.S., plus an additional 253,519 vehicles in Canada and Mexico.
Models added to the recall are:
• 2003-07 Saturn Ion
• 2006-07 Chevrolet HHR
• 2006-07 Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky
These are in addition to the recall in the U.S. of 619,122 Chevrolet Cobalts from the 2005 through 2007 model years and 2007 Pontiac G5s.
The ignition defect, says GM, allows it to move unexpectedly from "run" to "accessory" if jarred or if pulled by a heavy key chain. That shuts off the engine and may disable the front air bags. The loss of the air bag crash protection is central to the safety recall.
In announcing the recall expansion, GM acknowledged the lag of years between indications of a problem as early as 2004 in the Cobalt, as first reported in USA TODAY, and the current recalls.
"The chronology shows that the process employed to examine this phenomenon was not as robust as it should have been," said GM North America President Alan Batey. "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."
Batey said, "We are deeply sorry and we are working to address this issue as quickly as we can."
USA TODAY reported Monday that the additional four models had been identified by GM as early as 2005 in a dealer alert as having the same potential switch problem. Along with Cobalt and G5, they all use switches with the same part number, an automaker's definitive way to identify components, as the recalled cars.
GM initially declined to explain publicly why it believed these other vehicles were not also at risk and should not be recalled. GM said it based the initial recall of Cobalts and Pontiac G5s compacts on its investigation, but did not rule out the wider recall and was in talks with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Similar complaints already had been made about these other cars. Two HHR owners, for example, had complained to NHTSA about air bags not deploying in front-impact crashes.
And a May 2009 report by TV station WTVD in Raleigh, N.C., quoted Loretta Barnes as saying her 2007 HHR "stalled on the train track" in Roanoke Rapids. She said she was able to quickly restart the vehicle but that it was a recurring problem, and "I'm scared."
She said she had taken her HHR to the dealership five times without the problem being solved. As a result of the TV report, Barnes said, GM gave her a deal on a new car.
Still unexplained by GM is an apparently safer switch, with a different part number, installed in all of these vehicles starting in 2008. None have been recalled.
GM won't say if the switch was revised to fix the stalling and air bag problem. Nor will it say if that later switch is the one dealers will use as the replacement for the recall repair on the older vehicles.
GM now is planning the acquisition of switches to do the repairs and a schedule for rolling them out.
GM facing federal investigation into timeliness of deadly ignition recall
Thirteen motorists are dead, and federal safety regulators want to know why.
On Wednesday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced it would investigate why General Motors delayed a recall of more than 1.37 million vehicles when it knew a defect existed for as long as a decade. In the interim, faulty ignition switches that prevented airbag deployment have been linked to 13 fatalities and caused 31 known crashes.
NHTSA said it would investigate the timeliness of GM's recall, and the Detroit-based automaker could face a financial penalty if investigators find they stalled in fixing a deadly safety issue. Automotive safety advocates say NHTSA could have also investigated sooner.
"NHTSA's enforcement activities have been completely lax, and they let it slide and people died," said Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies. "And GM's shown a willingness to obfuscate what was really happening."
Documents show that GM was aware of the problem, in which the ignition switches can inadvertently move to the "off" position under pressure from heavy keychains, since 2004. NHTSA had queried the Detroit-based automaker about it as early as 2007.
But GM didn't recall any vehicles because of the problem until last month, when it recalled 619,122 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 models. At that time, the company said it knew of six deaths attributed to the problem. It expanded that campaign earlier this week when it recalled 748,000 more cars, including models of the Saturn Ion, Chevrolet HHR, Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky.
In a written statement issued Tuesday, GM president of North America Alan Batey (above) apologized for the belated response.
"The chronology shows that the process employed to examine this phenomenon was not as robust as it should have been," he said. "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."
General Motors could face a financial penalty of up to $35 million if NHTSA's investigation reveals it did not recall the vehicles in a timely manner. If the investigation results in the maximum fine, that would be a record. Back in December 2012, Toyota and the US government agreed to a record $17.35M fine for its own recall delays.
It's unclear whether the recalls would have emerged without a court case settled in 2013 between GM and the family of Brooke Melton, a Georgia nurse who was killed in an accident in March 2010 when her 2005 Chevy Cobalt lost power. While working on the case, an attorney who represented the Melton family learned one of GM's engineers had experienced the problem during a test drive in 2004 – before the vehicle was even on sale.
"I think this whole recall comes from that attorney," Kane said. "If it wasn't for his ability to get GM on the record, I don't think this recall happens. Now you have everybody looking at it, and congressmen calling for investigations. ... So this story is far from over, and the longer and harder we look at it, I think we'll have consumers looking at incidents that were not adequately explained before."
The Detroit News reported that GM is not counting Melton's death as part of its total related to the problem.
Industry analysts say they expect the recall news to put a dent, albeit a temporary one, into GM's sales figures.
"Safety is one of the most important attributes a car shopper looks for when considering and purchasing a vehicle," said Tony Lim, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book. "As GM's current customers and shoppers become aware of the recall, we expect perceptions of safety to be impacted slightly across the lineup."
General Motors' problems with its recall of roughly 1.6-million vehicles continue to mount. Now that it has emerged that GM knew about the problem since at least 2004 but waited to recall vehicles until February 2014, regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have begun a much deeper investigation. NHTSA has sent a 27-page survey to GM that includes 107 questions about the timeline of what led up to the recall, and it has until April 3 to reply.
This isn't a simple, multiple-choice test. Automotive News believes that hundreds of pages could be required to answer some of the queries. NHTSA says that it is still investigating GM's response to the recall. "We are a data-driven organization, and we will take whatever action is appropriate based on where our findings lead us," said NHTSA in a statement on its website. If found liable, the automaker could face a fine as high as $35 million and even possible criminal charges, according to Reuters.
NHTSA's questions include a detailed explanation of GM's examination process; how it will improve the process; why a planned redesign of the cars' key in 2005 wasn't implemented; and specific data on each complaint it received. According to Reuters, NHTSA also has records that show the company had a meeting with regulators to discuss the airbag failure in a Chevrolet Cobalt in 2007.
New GM CEO Mary Barra has also hired an outside law firm to conduct an independent investigation about what happened. It will include questioning company employees who were involved with the process from the start. The recall stems from faulty ignition switches that shut off the car while driving, and if it occurs the airbags deactivate. Thirteen deaths and 23 crashes have been caused by the problem, according to Reuters.
GM bankruptcy terms may limit liability in ignition-related recall lawsuits
General Motors is facing an investigation from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over its handling of a recall affecting roughly 1.6 million cars, but the automaker may have found a legal shield from possible future consumer lawsuits. The solution hinges on the old, pre-bankruptcy GM, and the new company that emerged afterward. While the name is the same, on paper they are technically different firms.
According to Automotive News, the company negotiated with state attorneys general and consumer groups during its restructuring to only carry product liability on faults with vehicles from after it left bankruptcy in 2009. If any owners want to sue GM for issues that took place before that time, they would have to take it up with the "old GM" in a bankruptcy court. So far, all attempts to sue the new company for pre-2009 faults have failed.
"It is true that new GM did not assume liability for claims arising from incidents or accidents occurring prior to July 2009," said GM spokesperson Greg Martin to Automotive News.
Because the vehicles affected by the recall were built between 2003 and 2007, covering only claims after 2009 limits the number of possible cases. The current total of incidents related to the ignition switch fault sits at 31 accidents and 13 deaths. The General hasn't revealed when these crashes occurred, but Automotive News claims to know of at least one fatal crash in a Chevrolet Cobalt in December of 2009 that was caused by the airbag not deploying. Even if the automaker is able to limit product liability lawsuits, it's still facing a possible fine from NHTSA that could be as high as $35 million, a new record in the industry.
The public inquiry into the General Motors recall of roughly 1.6 million vehicles continues to broaden, and the US House Energy and Commerce Committee is planning a hearing to investigate GM's reaction to the problem. A date for the questioning hasn't been set yet, but it's expected to include officials from the automaker and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, according to Automotive News.
The committee is chaired by US Representative Fred Upton, a Republican from Michigan, who also oversaw a subcommittee investigation of rollovers of Ford Explorers with Firestone tires in 2000. In response, he sponsored and passed the Tread Act that required automakers to report defects to NHTSA in a timely matter. "Here we are over a decade later, faced with accidents and tragedies, and significant questions need to be answered. Did the company or regulators miss something that could have flagged these problems sooner?" said Upton in a statement on the committee's website.
According to AN, the automaker's internal investigation is led by former US attorney Anton Valukas, its general counsel, Michael Millikin and attorneys from the law firm King & Spalding. NHTSA is running a separate probe and submitted a 27-page questionnaire to GM about how it handled the recall, and how it will improve its process. The company has until April 3 to respond to the regulator.
"We are fully cooperating with NHTSA and will do so with the Committee, too. We welcome the opportunity to help both parties have a full understanding of the facts. I do not have any other details," said Alan Adler, GM's spokesperson on legal and recall topics, in an email to Autoblog.
The faulty ignition switches have been shown to turn off a vehicle inadvertently if jostled or put under heavy pressure, like if the driver had a weighty keychain. When this happens it also deactivates the airbag. There have been 13 fatalities and 31 crashes attributed to the problem. GM is facing a fine as high as $35 million from NHTSA if found that it delayed the recall, the highest ever in the industry. The company is also open to possible consumer lawsuits related to the issue.
Baptism of fire for Barra as GM announces $500 discount, free loaners to owners of recalled cars
As the federal government continues to investigate General Motors for the delayed recall of certain Chevrolet, Saturn and Pontiac vehicles with faulty ignition switches, the Detroit-based manufacturer has announced a $500 cash allowance for the 1.3 million American owners of affected cars. Dealers have also been instructed to issue loaner vehicles to customers concerned with the safety of their cars. The cash allowance is good on any 2013 to 2015 model year vehicle from the GM family of brands.
"GM will not market or solicit owners using this allowance," said a notice posted by GM on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website, according to Automotive News. "We ask that you not market to or solicit these customers either. This allowance is not a sales tool; it is to be used to help customers in need of assistance."
The announcement was originally made on March 4, but the story broke today, shortly after The Detroit News discovered that the replacement part in the Chevy Cobalt and HHR, Pontiac G5 and Solstice, and Saturn Ion and Sky costs just $2 to $5 and could be replaced in just a few minutes. The cost of the new ignition switch was discovered in the report of a JP Morgan analyst.
"We learned from Delphi's sell-side dinner Monday that actual cost to manufacture a replacement part could be as little as $2 to $5 each, and that labor costs to install the part would likely be low as well, considering it can be swapped out in a matter of minutes," said analyst Ryan Brinkman's report. According to a separate report from RBC Capital Markets, the total cost of the warranty work could hit $80 million. Repairs are expected to start in April, according to CNN.
Public sentiment, meanwhile, is (rightly, perhaps) swinging against GM. AN reports on safety advocates Clarence Ditlow and Joan Claybrook, two vocal critics of GM's handling of this recall. Ditlow and Claybrook have now called on the manufacturer to create a $1 billion trust to compensate the victims of the 31 crashes, which included 13 deaths, due to the faulty ignition switches.
"By concealing the ignition key defect for at least 10 years, GM created more victims and then robbed them of their legal rights through the passage of time," said Ditlow and Claybrook in a letter to GM's CEO, Mary Barra, obtained by AN. While there's some truth to their statement, Ditlow and Claybrook seem to forget one important fact: GM isn't necessarily liable for incidents and decisions made before its bankruptcy. GM's official response to Ditlow and Claybrook said as much.
"GM is focused on ensuring the safety and peace of mind of our customers involved in the recall. It is true that new GM did not assume liability for claims arising from incidents or accidents occurring prior to July 2009. Our principle throughout this process has been to the put the customer first, and that will continue to guide us."
Ditlow and Claybrook's letter to Barra does highlight an interesting part of this whole dilemma for GM, in that the company's newest CEO has had something of a baptism by fire. Besides a reportedly tough launch of the new Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra, Barra has been faced with this recall.
"The probe into the GM ignition switch problem is continuing to snowball with questions swirling about how much GM and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration knew about the issue and when they learned it," Kelley Blue Book senior market analyst, Jack Nerad, told Autoblog. "Some nine years have elapsed since the initial reports, begging those questions. Now with potential blood in the water, there is a gathering of interested parties to investigate potential regulatory and criminal misconduct." Ditlow and Claybrook are two such parties.
It's easy enough for GM to shy away from the matter, though. GM is, as we said, not liable under the law for things that were done before bankruptcy. Nerad points out, though, that it's still highly beneficial for GM to sort this mess out as quick as possible.
"While the issue does not seem to have had much effect on current GM vehicle sales, the company must come to a quick and satisfying resolution of the issue to assure that it won't be tainted by sins of the past," Nerad said. "The fact that GM was rescued by the American taxpayers makes a resolution that is satisfactory to the average person on the street even more imperative than if such an issue arose in another company."
General Motors' ignition switch problem goes back even farther than first imagined. In a statement that the automaker submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it said that it found a case of the faulty ignition switch going back to 2001 in a pre-production Saturn Ion (pictured above). Previously, the earliest known affected vehicles were from 2004.
NHTSA received the GM letter on March 11, and it came as part of the timeline it released to explain the widened recall. The report includes a case of a pre-production Ion where engineers found a problem with the ignition switch's "passlock" system. The engineers diagnosed it as "low detent plunger force," and a design change fixed the issue.
The same report documents a case in 2003 where a service technician was driving an Ion, and the car stalled. The mechanic said: "'[t]he owner had several keys on the key ring,' and stated that '[t]he additional weight of the keys had worn out the ignition switch,'" according to the letter. The worker replaced the vehicle's ignition switch.
GM said that it received customer complaints to its warranty and technical assistance offices around this time of customers not being able to start their vehicles, and some of these included reports of stalling.
For the Ion alone, GM says in the new report that it has found eight frontal crashes of 2003-2007 models where the ignition switch fault may have played a role. Among these accidents, there were four fatalities and six injuries. It also has evidence of three frontal impacts of 2006-2007 Chevrolet HHRs where the switch might have been responsible, and they resulted in three injuries.
This latest letter to NHTSA comes in addition to the 107 questions the automaker has to answer for the regulator by April 7. The company is also facing a hearing before the US House Energy and Commerce Committee, but a date hasn't been set yet. The entire 10-page letter can be viewed as a PDF here. Much of the new information comes on page nine.
The General Motors ignition switch recall appears to be rapidly spiraling out of control. A new report analyzing federal crash data suggests that there weren't only 12 or 13 people killed after their GM vehicle's ignition inadvertently switched off, disabling the airbags. No, the new figure could be 303. And that's just on two of the six recalled models, the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion, so the figure could grow.
The review of the crash data was done by Friedman Research Corporation, which looked at airbag failures in GM vehicles between 2003 and 2012 (despite reports of issues back in 2001). According to The New York Times, the review only looked at cases where the airbags failed to deploy – it didn't analyze the actual causes of the crashes.
Still, it's a troubling development, which if proven correct would mean this latest safety issue easily surpasses the 27 deaths attributed to Ford Pinto fires and the estimated 271 fatalities blamed on the Ford Explorer/Firestone tire debacle.
Meanwhile, Automotive News reports on trial lawyers smelling blood in the water. Litigators are looking to line up clients that have been affected by the recall, with one lawyer even saying he was planning to challenge post-bankruptcy GM's immunity to issues that happened before a federal bailout.
"If you are aware of potential exposure to litigation and you don't reveal it, that's fraud," said Bob Hilliard, a Texas-based lawyer representing the families of a pair of Wisconsin teens killed in a Cobalt crash in 2006. "I'm going to go back to that bankruptcy judge and say, 'You have to undo this, the liability of old GM, because it was the new GM's continued coverup after the bankruptcy that allowed people to be hurt or killed.'"
Automotive News spoke to Chip Bowles, a bankruptcy lawyer, about Hilliard's attempt to reopen the case and remove new GM's immunity. Bowles told the site Hilliard would need to prove that old GM willingly deceived US Bankruptcy Judge Robert Gerber.
Actually doing that, though, may prove very difficult, with Bowles adding, "Lots of luck there, friend."
US database may have overstated deaths in GM ignition switch recall
Earlier today, we reported that the actual death toll attributable to GM's ignition switch problem had crested the 300 mark according to new research, well up from the original reports of 12 to 13 deaths. Now, word is breaking that the US government database that informed the study that the report was based on may have significantly overstated the correlation between the study and the GM recall.
The initial study was conducted by Friedman Research on behalf of the Center for Auto Safety, and used something called the US Fatality Analysis Reporting System. To recap, the study claimed that over a 10-year period, 303 people were killed in Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion coupes and sedans when their airbags failed to deploy. These undeployed airbags were then linked to GM's ignition switch recall, which as we've explained before, can turn the ignition out of the "run" position and into the "off" or "accessory" position, disabling the airbags in the process.
Now, according to a report from The Detroit News, which cites research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Study Center for Trauma and EMS at the University of Maryland, the FARS analysis didn't take into account fatal accidents in conditions where the airbags weren't supposed to deploy (which isn't to say crashes and deaths weren't caused by loss of control from the ignition switching off in the GM vehicles). According to the report, this was a significant number of the cases.
There is another potential problem, too. According to that same report, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration uses both FARS and another database on fatalities, called the National Automotive Sampling System/Crashworthiness Data System (NASS/CDS). Where FARS uses what the DetNews calls "not always reliable" police data to record vehicular deaths within 30 days of a crash, NASS/CDS relies on what's known as a probability sample. It collects data on 5,000 crashes each year – including some found in the FARS database – to calculate a probability figure.
According to a 2009 IIHS study, "Among crashes common to both databases, NASS/CDS reported deployments for 45 percent of front occupant deaths for which FARS had coded nondeployments." In plain English, FARS doesn't provide a reliable count airbag deployments.
"The bottom line is at least for the years we looked at it, the coding of airbag deployments isn't always accurate," the study's author, IIHS Senior Vice President for Research Anne McCaratt told The News. "It's frustrating because it seems like police reports would be able to code accurately whether an airbag deploys or not. It's not like trying to figure out if the driver fell asleep."
At this point, it remains unclear how many deaths are attributable to the GM ignition switch flaw. It's possible that the number of total deaths may be far fewer than the 303 claimed by the Friedman Research/CAS study we covered earlier (although it may climb back past that number once deaths across all models are included), though it's likely still higher than the 12 to 13 cases thus far acknowledged by GM. With this latest turn, though, the issue becomes cloudier and cloudier.
In wake of ignition scandal, GM appoints Jeff Boyer as safety czar
GM Announces New Vehicle Safety Chief
Jeff Boyer named Vice President, Global Vehicle Safety
DETROIT – General Motors CEO Mary Barra today named a new vehicle safety leader whose first priority will be to quickly identify and resolve product safety issues.
Jeff Boyer, has been named to the newly created position of Vice President, Global Vehicle Safety, effective immediately. Boyer, who has spent nearly 40 years in a wide range of engineering and safety positions at GM, will have global responsibility for the safety development of GM vehicle systems, confirmation and validation of safety performance, as well as post-sale safety activities, including recalls.
Boyer will provide regular and frequent updates on vehicle safety to Barra, senior management and the GM Board of Directors.
"Jeff's appointment provides direct and ongoing access to GM leadership and the Board of Directors on critical customer safety issues," said Barra. "This new role elevates and integrates our safety process under a single leader so we can set a new standard for customer safety with more rigorous accountability. If there are any obstacles in his way, Jeff has the authority to clear them. If he needs any additional resources, he will get them."
"Nothing is more important than the safety of our customers in the vehicles they drive," said Boyer. "Today's GM is committed to this, and I'm ready to take on this assignment."
Boyer, 58, will report to John Calabrese, Vice President of Global Vehicle Engineering and become a member of Global Product Development staff, led by Mark Reuss, Executive Vice President, Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain.
Boyer began his GM career in 1974, as a co-op student and has held several senior engineering, safety and process leadership positions, including the role of a total vehicle integration engineer. His most recent position since 2011 was Executive Director of Engineering Operations and Systems Development. Before that, Boyer served as Executive Director of Global Interior Engineering and Safety Performance where he was responsible for the performance and certification of GM vehicle safety and crashworthiness. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Kettering University and a Masters of Business Administration from Michigan State University.
Barra says recalled GM cars 'safe to drive' with one big 'if'
The ongoing investigation into General Motors' 1.6-million-car ignition recall continues to pick up steam, with most questions centering on what the company knew and when it knew it. On Tuesday, newly minted CEO Mary Barra held a press conference to directly address questions about GM's safety problems and their ramifications. In addition to public criticism and potential lawsuits, the business is facing multiple government examinations into how it handled the issue.
During the conference, Barra reportedly said that she first learned about an internal safety investigation in late December and found out that a recall was necessary on January 31. A repair campaign for 778,562 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 models was first announced on February 13 and broadened about a week later to cover more models.
According to The New York Times, during the conference, Barra was asked directly if the affected cars are safe to drive until the ignition switch is replaced. She responded: "If you have just the ring with the key, it is safe to drive." She spoke to GM engineers about the issue and asked them, "Would you let your wife drive this car? ... And they said yes." The problem, which involves the potential for the ignition to shut off unintentionally (killing engine power and deactivating the airbags), is understood to be exacerbated by large and heavy key rings that place strain on the ignition.
The company has been addressing this major safety issue since it went public in February. On March 18, it appointed Jeff Boyer to the newly created position of vice president for global vehicle safety. It has also promised loaner vehicles and a $500 cash allowance on a new GM product to affected owners.
The automaker is still facing a hearing in front of the US House Energy and Commerce Committee. Barra said she would speak there if asked, according to the NYT. The company is also preparing a 107-question timeline on the recall for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and conducting an internal investigation.
GM CEO Mary Barra and Lead Federal Vehicle Safety Official Expected to Testify April 1
March 20, 2014
WASHINGTON, DC – Bipartisan House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders today announced that General Motors Company CEO Mary Barra will testify at an Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, April 1, 2014, at 11:00 a.m. The committee has also invited National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Acting Administrator David Friedman to testify on the same day.
"We look forward to hearing from both Mary Barra and Administrator Friedman. Their testimony is critical to understanding what the company and NHTSA knew about the safety problems, when they knew it, and what was done about it," said full committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-PA). "The problems originated long before Barra and Friedman took the helms of their respective organizations, but their actions and input now, as our investigation proceeds, will be essential to getting answers about what went wrong. We want to know if this tragedy could have been prevented and what can be done to ensure the loss of life due to safety failures like this don't happen again."
"I look forward to this hearing so we can find out from GM and NHTSA how this happened and why these dangerous vehicles were not fixed in a timely fashion," said full committee Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-CO).
Additional hearing details, the Majority Memorandum, a witness list, and witness testimony will be available here as they are posted.
BACKGROUND: The committee has opened a bipartisan investigation into the General Motors Company's (GM) and NHTSA's response to consumer complaints related to stalling, airbag non-deployment, and ignition switch problems. GM announced a recall in February covering over 1.6 million vehicles worldwide to correct the problems, but reports indicate drivers first complained of the safety defects over 10 years ago. The company has stated that the defects may have been linked to 31 frontal crashes and a dozen fatalities. Committee staff has now been briefed by both NHTSA and GM on the recalls, and currently awaits production of the documents and information requested last week.
Replacement ignitions may cause more headaches for recalled GM products
General Motors might be facing more bad news related to its recall of 1.6 million cars for faulty ignition switches. It turns out that GM and Delphi Automotive never changed the part number after instituting a fix in 2007. While many of these replacement pieces might not be unsound, it is impossible to know unless they are inspected or have their manufacturing history checked, according to Automotive News.
According to GM's filings with the National Highway Travel Safety Administration, the automaker and supplier added a shorter, tenser spring to the switch in 2007 to prevent them from being twisted so easily. However, because the part number was never changed it would be difficult for dealers to know if they had older, faulty ignition switches in their inventory.
GM and Delphi both told Automotive News that the switches were only supplied to the automaker. They don't believe that any of them were sold to parts dealers at this time. There have also been no reported cases of drivers having defective switches installed in their vehicles, and the part subsequently failing. Although, NHTSA has received one complaint on its website from a driver worrying that a 2009 repair could have used the defective part.
According to GM spokesperson Jim Cain, the investigation into the replacement parts came at the request of NHTSA. The company knows about the issue is "cooperating fully with NHTSA," Cain said.
GM will begin repairing recalled vehicles around April 7 with new parts supplied by Delphi, but doesn't expect to have the process completed until October. Congressional hearings into the recall will be held on April 1-2, and the automaker owes its questionnaire to NHTSA on April 3.
General Motors expands ignition-switch recall again by 971,000 cars
GM Moves to Secure Recalled Ignition Switches
824,000 models sold in the U.S. from 2008-2011 will get new ignition switch
Parts return sought from aftermarket distributors
DETROIT – General Motors today said it will replace the ignition switch in all model years of its Chevrolet Cobalt, HHR, Pontiac G5, Solstice and Saturn Ion and Sky in the U.S. since faulty switches may have been used to repair the vehicles.
The parts are at the center of the company's recently announced ignition switch recall, which originally extended through the 2007 model year. About 95,000 faulty switches were sold to dealers and aftermarket wholesalers. Of those, about 90,000 were used to repair older vehicles that were repaired before they were recalled in February.
Because it is not feasible to track down all the parts, the company is taking the extraordinary step of recalling 824,000 more vehicles in the U.S. to ensure that every car has a current ignition switch. GM is unaware of any reports of fatalities with this group of vehicles where a frontal impact occurred, the front air bags did not deploy and the ignition is in the "accessory" or "off" position.
As with the earlier recalls, if the torque performance is not to GM specification, the ignition switch may unintentionally move from the "run" position to the "accessory" or "off" positions, leading to a loss of power. The risk may be increased if the key ring is carrying added weight or if the vehicle goes off road or experiences some jarring event. The timing of the key movement out of the "run" position relative to when the sensing algorithm of a crash may result in the air bags not deploying, increasing the potential for occupant injury in certain kinds of crashes.
Until the recall has been performed, customers are urged to remove all items, including the key fob, from their key rings, leaving only the vehicle key.
"We are taking no chances with safety," said GM CEO Mary Barra. "Trying to locate several thousand switches in a population of 2.2 million vehicles and distributed to thousands of retailers isn't practical. Out of an abundance of caution, we are recalling the rest of the model years.
"We are going to provide our customers with the peace of mind they deserve and expect by getting the new switches into all the vehicles," Barra said.
GM records indicate the service parts may have been used for ignition repairs in:
2008-2010 Chevrolet Cobalts
2008-2011 Chevrolet HHRs
2008-2010 Pontiac Solstice
2008-2010 Pontiac G5 and
2008-2010 Saturn Sky
Owners who may have had a suspect part installed will receive a letter the week of April 21. GM dealers will replace their ignition switch free of charge as parts become available. Customers who paid to have their ignition switches replaced will be eligible for reimbursement.
Dealers, distributors and other parts customers will be told about the recall beginning March 31.
Documents portray 'unsettling picture' of responses to GM ignition-switch problem
NHTSA Declined Investigation In '07; GM Said Cost Of Fix Was 'Too High' In '05
A senior investigator within the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wanted to open an investigation into defective Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion models in November 2007. The director of the agency's Defects Assessment Division had spotted a trend of airbag non-deployments in the two General Motors models – early evidence of a problem included four fatal accidents, 29 complaints and 14 field reports.
NHTSA chose not to pursue an investigation.
The revelation came Sunday when a Congressional subcommittee that's reviewed tens of thousands of documents related to GM's recall fiasco released a memo that summarized its initial findings (which you can find here – warning, PDF). "Although we have had the documents for less than a week, they paint an unsettling picture," said Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA).
Hearings held by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee are scheduled begin Tuesday morning. General Motors CEO Mary Barra and NHTSA administrator David Friedman are expected to testify.
In a written statement Sunday, a NHTSA spokesperson said, "the agency reviewed data from a number of sources in 2007, but the data we had at the time did not warrant a formal investigation. Recent data presented by GM provides new information and evidence directly linking the ignition switch to the airbag non-deployment."
The House hearing is the first of several inquiries into General Motors conduct and its decade-long delay of a recall of more than 2.5 million cars saddled with a potentially deadly ignition-switch defect. Documents have revealed GM knew about the defect as early as 2001 – before cars event went on sale – but didn't act until February.
In the interim, at least 13 people have have died as a result of crashes related to the defect. One study commissioned by the Center for Auto Safety believes the number of deaths is much higher, that as many as 303 deaths could be tied to the defect, though the methodology of that study has come under fire.
A Senate panel holds its own hearings Tuesday. On Wednesday, GM is supposed to submit its response to 107 questions for NHTSA's own investigation. A Department of Justice investigation is pending.
Over the past month, Congressmen, safety advocates and industry experts have wondered why NHTSA and GM failed to connect the incidents – why an Early Warning Reporting system failed to set off alarm bells. As it turned out, it did, and no one acted. "The red flags were many, and yet those responsible failed to connect the dots," Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) tweeted Sunday.
Another portion of the memo released Sunday noted that senior employees at Delphi, the maker of the defective ignition switches, told investigators that GM had approved use of the part, even though testing of the torque in the switches fell below set parameters. It also said that a desire to keep costs down may have played a key role in not fixing the defective switches before the cars went on sale.
In March 2005, the documents show the Cobalt's project engineer manager closed an examination of the switches with no action because, "the lead time for all solutions is too long," and "tooling cost and piece price are too high."
Among the questions the House subcommittee is set to ask Barra, according to the memo is, "Why did GM approve ignition switches that did not meet its specifications for torque performance? What was GM's assessment of the implications for performance and safety?"
General Motors is not fully cooperating with a federal probe of its defective ignition switches, investigators charged Tuesday.
In a letter to the beleaguered automaker, the lead attorney for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said GM was either "unwilling or unable" to answer more than a third of questions posed by regulators. Answers were due by April 3.
In response, NHTSA has levied a $7,000 per day penalty against the company. So far, the company has amassed a $28,000 fine. Perhaps more concerning for a company that posted a $3.2 billion profit in 2013 is that regulators say they'll ask the Department of Justice to compel responses for the missing information.
"To be clear, a complete response by GM means GM fully and substantively answers all questions and produces all responsive documents," O. Kevin Vincent, NHTSA's general counsel, wrote. General Motors disputes NHTSA's finding. A company spokesperson says GM has "fully cooperated" with the special order.
Intervention from the Justice Department would be a separate matter from the DOJ's own investigation into whether General Motors is criminally liable for its failure to recall more than 2.5 million affected cars in a timely manner. Documents have shown that GM knew about the problem as early as 2001 – four years before the cars even went into production. Yet the company didn't start to recall the cars until February. In the interim, GM acknowledges at least 13 people were killed in accidents related to the defect.
Two Congressional inquiries into the delay are underway, in addition to the pending DOJ and NHTSA investigations. In addition, an investigator general is conducting an audit of NHTSA's own inaction regarding the defect.
Testifying before the two Congressional subcommittees last week, General Motors CEO Mary Barra deflected many questions by saying she wanted to wait for the results of an internal GM investigation being conducted by former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas before providing answers. Vincent's letter alleges GM attempted to answer many of the 107 questions in NHTSA's special order in the same manner: when investigators asked about the missing responses on April 4, GM cited the ongoing internal investigation as a reason for not fully responding, according to NHTSA.
"This was the first time GM had ever raised Mr. Valukas' work as a reason GM could not fully provide information to NHTSA in this timeliness investigation," Vincent wrote. "... Mr. Valukas' investigation is irrelevant to GM's legal obligation to timely respond to the Special Order and fully cooperate with NHTSA."
In month-long discussions with regulators, GM said it may not be able to fully provide answers to "technical engineering questions" by the deadline, and NHTSA stipulated it had no objection to the company taking extra time to ensure comprehensive responses to those particular questions. Yet when the responses arrived, they lacked information for not only technical engineering questions, but responses for "numerous" queries that were far more basic, Vincent said.
"These are basic questions concerning information that is surely readily available to GM at this time," he wrote. "Moreover, it is deeply troubling that two months after recalling the vehicles, GM is unwilling or unable to tell NHTSA whether the design of the switch changed at any other time."
General Motors said it has submitted 21,000 documents that total more than 270,000 pages in response to the NHTSA special order, and disputes Vincent's allegation that the company has not fully cooperated.
"GM has worked tirelessly from the start to be responsive to NHTSA's special order and has fully cooperated with the agency to help it have a full understanding of the facts," said Greg A. Martin, a company spokesperson. "We believe that NHTSA shares our desire to provide accurate and substantive responses. We will continue to provide responses and facts as soon as they become available and hope to go about this in a constructive manner. We will do so with a goal of being accurate as well as timely."
To be fair, I've stalled at highway speeds before(in an old *** RV on a GM chassis, lol). It wasn't a big deal to keep it moving in the direction I wanted it to. The biggest problem though, would be brakes. Fortunately I didn't have anybody in front of me for miles, so I just brought it to a gentle stop rather than test the brakes hard.
I warned one of my buddies who drives a Cobalt to go get it taken care of. Hopefully he will.
Emails show NHTSA official felt GM often lagged on safety
General Motors has attempted to distance itself from a widening crisis over its botched handling of a deadly defect by dividing its company history into two distinct periods. The "old" GM existed prior to the company's 2009 bankruptcy and conducted itself one way, and the "new" GM that emerged from the bankruptcy with a renewed commitment to quality and safety.
But documents released Friday in connection with a Congressional investigation into why GM waited so long to recall defective ignition switches showed that, since the bankruptcy, federal safety regulators had grown frustrated with what they felt was the company's indifferent attitude toward safety issues.
Top officials with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and General Motors exchanged emails on July 23, 2013 in advance of a face-to-face meeting to discuss the issues. In the exchange, Frank Borris, the director of NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation, says, "the general perception is that GM is slow to communicate, slow to act, and, at times, requires additional effort of ODI that we do not feel is necessary with some of your peers."
Borris then lists six separate occasions, all of which occurred between 2011 and 2013, in which NHTSA felt General Motors had not taken timely or necessary actions regarding safety concerns. A GM spokesperson said Saturday, "We strive to provide timely and accurate information to our regulators."
The allegations of foot-dragging take on heightened importance in the context of the multiple federal investigations into General Motors' failure to swiftly recall more than 2.5 million vehicles afflicted with an ignition-switch defect that has claimed the lives of at least 13 motorists and caused at least 31 crashes in a timely fashion.
General Motors knew about the ignition-switch problem in 2001 – four years before affected cars even rolled off the assembly line – but it didn't issue a recall for the problem until this February. Federal law states that carmakers must recall products within five days once they learn of a safety defect.
Documents released Friday came from the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. The Senate Commerce Committee has also held hearings, the Department of Justice may pursue criminal charges against GM, and NHTSA is in the midst of its own investigation. In testimony before the House committee, NHTSA administrator David Friedman said GM didn't provide key information that could have alerted the agency to a vexing problem sooner.
Until today, the scope of the probes had been on delays of the ignition-switch recall. But Borris' emails suggest the delays weren't limited to that particular case, but instead raise the possibility they are a matter of routine practice.
He references six separate instances in which GM either sought to minimize the scope of a recall by only conducting a regional recall, which saves money for automakers, or by conducting a "customer satisfaction campaign" instead of a full-blown recall. The emails show NHTSA had to often press the automaker to either issue recalls and/or expand their scopes. (Complete email exchange here; and more documents released Friday here).
"There is a general perception in ODI that GM is one of, if not the worst offender of the regional recall policy," Borris wrote to GM's M. Carmen Benavides, the company's director of product investigations, safety regulations and certification.
In another instance, NHTSA and GM haggled first over whether certain vehicles needed to be recalled to fix a part that could prevent the airbags from working, then later disagreed on the scope of how many cars the problem affected.
"This was particularly frustrating and all started when ODI raised concern with a TSB (technical service bulletin) that appeared to involve a (fairly obvious) safety issue," Borris wrote.
After Benavides says the company looks forward to addressing the points in the face-to-face meeting, Borris replies again, and says that NHTSA also wants to discuss "difficulty in obtaining responses" in its probe of a GM dealership in Pennsylvania that was selling new cars that had been recalled without fixing the safety problems.
Benavides then forwarded the email from Borris to several top General Motors employees, including Alicia Boler-Davis, who was named GM's senior vice president for global quality and customer experience last summer.
One day later, Michael J. Robinson, a global vice president of regulatory affairs, expressed shock at the Borris email.
"This note from NHTSA, both the content and the tone, comes like a bolt out of the blue," he wrote. "... We need to address this immediately and I would like to discuss. We worked way too hard to earn a reputation as the best and we are not going to let this slide."
"This note from NHTSA, both the content and the tone, comes like a bolt out of the blue," he wrote. "... We need to address this immediately and I would like to discuss. We worked way too hard to earn a reputation as the best and we are not going to let this slide."
This whole thing is getting worse by the day. GM got a second chance with the bailout, but it seems old secrets are coming out of the woodwork now. Will Mary Barra make it through the year? What do you guys think?
This whole thing is getting worse by the day. GM got a second chance with the bailout, but it seems old secrets are coming out of the woodwork now. Will Mary Barra make it through the year? What do you guys think?
Since she's been in the job such a short time, my guess is that she'll survive. She can be the hero (heroine? ) if she gets GM through this mess.
Now I'm just saying, on my old 1988 Toyota pickup, you could probably start that truck with an iron file or screwdriver. While it was running, you could take the key out and toss it out the window. Same thing with my 93 Toyota truck. Same story with a 2004ish Toyota Sequia I drove earlier today that had a quarter million miles on it. You could take the keys out of the ignition while it was running, no force or jerk required, they slide out just like when you shut the truck off.
Now I'm not going to throw GM under the bus for using cheap parts, every automaker does this. Its complete horse**** that the problem was this bad and they knew about for 10 years.