Automobile News, Opinion

The General Motors Recall Fiasco

General Motors has taken the throne for the largest number of recalls in the history of the world wide automotive sector. It has continuously been plagued by recalls right from 2006. Ever since its first recall it has been down hill with the latest recall calling over 8.4 million vehicles world wide and is expected to set the company’s kitty back by over $1.2 billion.

General Motors Logo

The Ignition Switch Snafu

An issue with the ignition key switch was identified and dealerships handed out key inserts to solve the problem to 474 of the cars. Tests almost 5 years earlier by GM engineers showed this problem. So early, that the car was in a pre-production stage. The mechanism that holds the ignition key in place was at fault and it was redesigned.

In 2003, a service technician observed something peculiar. A Saturn Ion was stalling when the car was being driven by several other keys on the key ring. According to his report, “the additional weight of the keys had worn out the ignition switch”

A similar problem started appearing in the Chevrolet Cobalts which share a similar mechanism. A redesign of the head of the key was proposed and this idea was later scrapped because the fix was too expensive. However, the supplier was informed and the change was made to the newer models coming into production from 2007. During this change the part number wasn’t updated so no one at the operations or production stage knew about this fix.

At an auto safety regulations meeting, a 2005 cobalt crash was brought up during which the airbags of the car did not deploy. Over the period of the year, 10 such fatal incidents are discovered by GM.

GM then allocated an engineer to look at why these crashes saw no airbags being deployed. He discovered something shocking, in four of the nine crashes, the ignition switch was not at the run position. They were almost going to be investigated by the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration but the official wanting to investigate was stopped by others in his department citing lack of warrant for the investigation.

In the year 2011, a fresh investigation was started for front crashes involving frontal impacts of cobalts where airbags did not deploy. The ignition switches from the defunct vehicles were picked up and tested. By 2012 the complete fraud involving the change of switches from 2007 model vehicle models were revealed.

Further assessment confirmed that the design was indeed changed for the models produced after 2007. A committee considers the recall of all pre 2007 models of Chevrolet Cobalts and Pontiac G5’s.

General Motors Recall Fiasco

The recall was initiated in the first week of February 2014 when over 8,00,000 Chevrolet Cobalts and Pontiag G5’s were called in to fix the problem. In a couple of weeks another 6,00,000 vehicles like the Chevrolet HHR, Saturn Ion, Saturn Sky and the Pontiac Solstice were called in.

Simultaneously the U.S. Auto Safety Regulator investigates if GM acted quick enough to fix the problem. The GM CEO, Mary Barra goes into damage control mode by defending how they were managing the recall and promises an internal review.

GM CEO Mary Barra

“We will hold ourselves accountable and improve our processes so our customers do not experience this again. Repairs to recalled cars should start in early April.” – GM CEO

Immediately, they hired a couple of external legal firms and they started investigation into the series of events that led up to this recall.

The justice department too launches a criminal investigation to find out why the recall was delayed as the problem was known at a very early stage.

GM then expands its recall by calling in 8,24,000 cars that were sold in the US. This brought the grand total to over 2.6 million cars worldwide. All for the same problem with the ignition switch.

Barra and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Administrator David Friedman testified before congress this April. She said that she had no idea why it took 10 years to recall the cars and that GM is working on determining how to compensate victims involved in the crashes. Friedman contended that GM was not reveling critical information that would have helped identify this defect.

A Check Plan Issued by GM
A Check Plan Issued by GM

The recalls began in the second week of April where all affected vehicles were repaired free of cost. Three days later, an additional problem is discovered by GM in the already recalled vehicles and the additional part is also replaced to solve the problem.

2014 chevrolet camaro ss

A faulty key for the Camaro saw 5,12,000 units of the iconic car being recalled.

This complete fiasco saw a complete re-structure in their engineering and quality departments, 15 employees being dismissed and saw the company pay a fine to the tune of $35 million to settle the federal probe and a package of $1 million is offered as compensation to the families of victims involved in crashes involving defected cars manufactured by GM.

Last month an additional 8.4 million vehicles, yes, 8.4 million are recalled for a faulty ignition switch.

The Wiring, Seat Belt & Overheating Related Recalls. 

Problems didn’t end for GM with the ignition switch recall. In May, the recalled 3 million cars including the 2004-2012 Chevrolet Malibu, the 2004-2007 Chevrolet Malibu Maxx, the 2005-2010 Pontiac G6, as well as 2007-2010 Saturn Auras.

The wiring problems caused the brake lights to fail and they wouldn’t light up when the brakes are applied and they would light up when the brakes were not depressed. This could also lead to features such as Cruise Control, Traction Control, Electronic Stability Control and Panic Braking Assist to malfunction.

A problem which saw the front seat belt separate from the car during a crash situation saw the recall of 2.4 million cars and trucks in the US that included the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook. 

Further, 2,18,000 Chevrlet Aveos (Optra in the US) were recalled due to the overheating of the DRL (Day Time Running Light) module which had risks of catching fire.

Bottom Line: 

This simply shows that the value of a life is irreplaceable and there is a structure in place in countries abroad to prevent mishaps due to faulty engineering from the companies side. Even the company feels socially responsible to fix such issues.

I wonder how long it will take for such measure to enter the Indian market and how many cases that will come tumbling out of Indian manufacturers who are simply ignorant on such matters. An industry where safety is not even on the list of design objectives and where price, space and fuel economy take precedence over safety.

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