began in February with the recall of 778,000 GM vehicles has evolved into a massive recall
totalling 2.6 million cars, an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department
and ongoing questions about why the company and federal agency that received
reports of the ignition problems failed to warn consumers.
The recall includes all model years of the Chevrolet Cobalt, Chevrolet
HHR, Saturn Ion, Saturn Sky, Pontiac G5 and Pontiac Solstice from 2003
to 2011. The recall as prompted by faulty ignition switches that turn
off without warning, leaving drivers without power steering and power
brakes, sometimes in the middle of traffic. The faulty ignition switch
has been linked to 13 deaths.
General Motors Chief Executive
Mary Barra recently announced that two GM engineers had been put on paid leave pending
the outcome of an investigation. Barra said she "agonized" over
the decision to send the men home, despite the role they may have played
in downplaying the dangers of faulty ignition switches that led to at
least 13 deaths.
But the two engineers are far from the only ones who knew about the faulty
switches. On the contrary, the automaker knew the ignition switches had
problems in the
pre-production stage, before they even reached the public. The National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration was made aware of the problems as far back as 2007,
but failed to act.
The GM ignition recall timeline
Consumerist.com, GM and the NHTSA were at least "peripherally aware" of the
ignition defects for more than a decade, starting with reports in the
pre-production stages of the 2002 Saturn Ion. In 2001-2002, the first
report of such a problem surfaced in notes before the vehicle was even
sent to dealerships.
In 2005, GM first took note of another vehicle, the Chevy Cobalt, having
similar problems. They opened engineering inquiries that year but didn't
take any significant action.
In 2006, GM attempted to fix the problem when test drivers alerted them
to the dangers. But in fixing the issues, the vehicle giant mixed old
parts with new, using pieces of the flawed ignition switches and keeping
them under the same item number, essentially making the problem even more
complex than it was previously.
The NHTSA first mentioned the faulty ignition switches in 2007, when they
proposed an investigation after the switch caused a serious crash. But
in the end, they declined to investigate.
After receiving numerous consumer complaints and reports of additional
accidents, the NHTSA in 2010 once again considered an investigation but
did not open one.
It wasn't until 2012 that GM acknowledged that their ignition switches
were faulty and were causing dangerous accidents. But still, the first
round of recalls wasn't issued until February 2014.
Internal and federal investigations into what went wrong
Both GM and the federal government are investigating the timeline, what
went wrong and who should be held accountable. GM expects their investigation,
conducted by a Chicago law firm tied to the company for the past decade,
to be completed in the middle of May.
Both Congress and the NHTSA are looking into the recall too. Though Barra
said they are cooperating fully with the federal investigations, the NHTSA
reports the company failed to answer more than one-third of their 107
questions. They face a $7,000 fine for each day those questions go unanswered
after the April 3 deadline.
This recall and its long-term effects are complex and far from over. After
a troubled decade in the 2000s and entering into bankruptcy, GM claims
it is protected against liability from those harmed by their faulty ignition switches.
That's a complicated legal question that remains to be sorted out.
U.S. Senator AG Blumenthal was opposed to GM shirking liability back in
2009 as they were going through the bankruptcy process and he has made
it his business to hold them accountable now-asking the Justice Department
to get involved.
For those who have lost family members or been involved in traumatic
auto accidents thanks to GM's failure to act sooner, you deserve to receive the full
compensation for their injuries and losses.