GM criminal inquiry underway as America’s largest automaker is forced to answer questions regarding the decade long delay on recalling cars tied to 31 deaths. Nearly 2 million vehicles are reportedly affected by faulty ignition switches that allow critical safety equipment to shut off when the vehicle is traveling. GM is reported to have its own lawyers conducting an internal probe into who was involved in each step that followed after the issues were brought to light in 2004. Last month GM announced a recall of over 160,000 Chevrolet Cobalts and Pontiac G5’s that had been built with the part supplied by Delphi Automotive Plc. Delphi reported that the affected switches have not been sold to any other automotive manufacturer.
The investigation was opened by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the same official who led the investigation into reports of Toyota owners affected by vehicles unexpectedly accelerating. A lot of information is being gathered by GM and the National Highway Traffic Safety Authority, and both groups have been ordered to hand over their findings to the House committee responsible for examining who is liable for the damages and deaths caused by the faulty machines.
This issue is sensitive because it is not yet clear if GM did indeed break any laws by handling news of the defects the way it did. Despite the slow reaction time to reports of problems and continued use of parts that were known to be defective, there will not be any action taken. After the series of problems that occurred involving Ford vehicles and Firestone tires in 2000, laws were passed that required automakers to inform the NHTSA of problems in a timely manner. The concern now is that something was missed which allowed the faulty parts to be used for so long, or if the company simply did not acknowledge the reports. With the GM criminal inquiry underway accompanied by two congressional committees, surely the answers will come to light by the deadline set.
Not all the heat is on GM however as congress men also want to know why the NHTSA did not take action against GM as soon as the problem was reported. The NHTSA has said that the number of problems in GM vehicles was not drastically different from the number of issues reported by other automakers, and says that the issue is likely closely related to the build quality that GM was known for just before the crash of 2009. In an attempt to better their public image GM has said numerous times that they have increased their commitment to quality construction, but these matters may deafen the public to any sweet words they may have left.
In any case, the quality of newly build cars is beside the point, as over a million cars were recalled in February this year. Although the majority of affected vehicles are likely now off the road, it is very difficult for consumers to know for sure. With a GM criminal inquiry underway, the automaker suggests using car keys with no other rings or keys attached as a means to reduce the chance of a malfunction. small comfort to the 31 families still hurting from their inaction.
By Daniel O’Brien