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Nathaniel Fick
Nathaniel Fick
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Is GM Now Being Forced to Face Years of Denials?

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After a strong recovery from its 2009 bankruptcy proceedings, General Motors has hit a major roadblock with its latest recall fiasco. According to the latest reports, despite learning of a faulty ignition switch that caused fatal accidents, GM appears to have spent the next several years denying the problem, and in the process issued an incomplete recall that leaves over a half million cars at risk. Now, as these discoveries are brought to light, the company seems confused as to how to proceed. As grieving families lament the company’s actions, it remains to be seen whether the auto giant can emerge with its integrity intact.

It is doubtful that GM ever intended to engage in such fraud; rather, years of compounding mistakes have culminated in far too many cases of ill sentiment, avoidable injury, and even death. As the company’s public relations staff deal with the fallout by repeating dissatisfying platitudes, we can only hope that GM — and other major corporations — will learn from this debacle.

What errors have contributed to the current situation?

1. Lack of Accountability

On May 15, 2009, GM received confirmation of a faulty ignition switch, dating back to a fatal crash caused by the defect in 2005. By December 2009, the automaker had issued two service bulletins to dealers regarding the faulty switch. However, over the next few years, when confronted by other accident victims’ families and customers, GM claimed that there was insufficient evidence for such a defect, even threatening some parties into submission. Meanwhile, GM hid behind its bankruptcy agreement, which shielded the company from liability for accidents occurring prior to July 10, 2009.

2. Violation of Manufacturing Processes

In 2006, GM authorized a redesign of the ignition switch for the 2007 model year. Typically, such a move requires assigning a new part number to communicate the change to employees, dealers, mechanics and others. However, GM neglected to execute this crucial step. As a result, years were lost while the company’s own employees fruitlessly investigated a peculiar type of crash that kept occurring. These accidents seem to have stopped after the ignition switch was re-engineered.

3. Lack of Integrity

GM finally recalled the Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 compact cars based on internal investigations, citing a defective ignition switch. However, other vehicles remain on the road — and they use the same switch as the Cobalt and G5, as identified in GM’s previous dealer service bulletins. Why weren’t they recalled as well? No one knows, perhaps not even at GM. When asked, the company only offers a somewhat vague, stock response.

The coming months should prove interesting; the automaker remains in talks with federal officials regarding the scope of the recall, and GM Chief Executive Mary Barra will testify before Congress this spring.