It appears as though the smallest, seemingly insignificant decision brought an auto giant to its knees. Media outlets and the general public alike have been closely following the General Motors recall crisis, searching for answers and where to place blame. After months of mounting mistakes and shifting responsibilities, a memo discussing a fix for the ignition switch problem plaguing millions of GM vehicles was uncovered by congressional investigators. In it, according to Forbes Magazine’s Micheline Maynard, is the so-called “smoking gun memo” from then-GM Ray DeGiorgio.
The General Motors recall mess has been strewn all over front page news for months now. Most of the scrutiny around the Detroit-based auto giant revolves around a defect in the ignition switch, causing the key to easily slip into the “off” position, cutting power to the car. This defect, which has the potential to cause an accident, has affected nearly 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalt, Saturn Ion and other Saturn and Pontiac models. The design issue has been blamed for 13 deaths so far, and GM has recalled those vehicles. In addition, the auto manufacturer warned that the ignition switch in question could have been used to repair the vehicles that had been recalled.
Mistakenly using the same faulty ignition switches to replace those in the recalled cars proved to be a grave mistake. In a “smoking gun” memo, then-GM Ray DeGiorgio clearly makes the decision not to change the part number for the redesigned ignition switch. According to the newly released documents, DeGiorgio allowed the part to be changed without following through with the standard step of changing the part number. Changing the part without assigning it a new number, of course, added a significant amount of confusion between the switches. The embarrassing and ultimately deadly mistake was called a “cardinal sin in product design” by engineers in Automotive News.
In her article for Forbes Magazine, Micheline Maynard states that, “The cost of GM’s recall, originally set at $300 million, has now ballooned to $1.3 billion, including some other vehicles. Along with DeGiorgio, GM has placed Gary Altman, the senior engineer of the Cobalt, on leave.”
Bloomberg news also reported that federal investigators first approached GM about the “secret part switch” in 2007 and tensions between the company and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have only escalated since then. “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,” Frank Borris, head of NHTSA Office of Defect Investigation said in July of 2013.
Documents show DeGiorgio was made aware of the issue as early as 2005, while Altman refused a proposed fix because it was deemed “too expensive.” Ultimately, that call ended up costing GM. Maynard ends by stating, “If GM had chosen to replace ignitions when it detected the problem, the cost would have been $37.7 million, according to documents released by the House committee. The cheaper repair that GM authorized cost the company $14.2 million.” Instead, GM is bleeding money, with costs expected to increase from the $1.3 billion hit it has taken so far.
Vehicle recalls are not to be taken lightly. Faulty equipment can cause serious injury or even death. The families of the 13 victims killed as a result of the General Motors recall mistake are left to grieve their lost loved ones while grappling with the heartbreaking questions of who is financially responsible. Companies as large as GM must be held accountable for their actions.
At Altman & Altman LLP, our seasoned Products Liability Attorneys have nearly 50 years of knowledge and experience handling all types of defective consumer products and consumer products liability cases. If you or a loved one was injured as a result of a company like General Motor’s negligence to ensure their product was safe, call us today to speak to an attorney to any questions you may have. Our team of lawyers is available around the clock to answer any and all questions you may have about your case.
Original article from Forbes