Guest views: ‘Old GM’ still haunts automaker

Comments Comments Print Print
Thursday, June 19, 2014

A crisis of confidence in General Motors continues to grow with the announcement Monday of another recall, this time 3.36 million mid- and full-size cars that have ignition switches that can be jarred out of the “run” position. That can shut down the vehicles’ power steering and brakes and prevent air bags from deploying. In other words: It can kill you.

The newest recall is similar to a defect linked to at least 13 deaths.

In 2006, Natasha Weigel, 18, and Amy Lynn Rademaker, 15, died in a rural Wisconsin crash when the steering column of the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt they were riding in suddenly froze. The air bags never deployed.

The tragedy is that GM engineers noticed the defect with the Cobalt more than a decade ago, but the company failed to respond adequately.
Where were federal regulators? It’s a question the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hasn’t fully answered.

The scandalous behavior at GM has prompted investigations by Congress and regulators and a record fine; GM chief Mary Barra testified before a congressional committee again Wednesday. The company has recalled 20 million North American cars so far this year.

“This latest recall raises even more questions about just how pervasive safety problems are at GM,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said in a statement. “Drivers and their families need to be assured that their cars are safe to drive.”

The public also needs assurance that Congress and regulators are looking out for consumers and not cozying up to the automakers. Tougher oversight before the fact might have forced GM to recall these cars sooner. That could have saved lives.

The ignition switch problem is another legacy of the “old GM,” that is, the troubled car company that existed before the government bailout in 2008.

“It’s unfortunate that this ghost of GM’s past won’t go away and continues to hamper the image and progress of new GM, which is doing really well overall,” Kelly Brauer, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, told Bloomberg.

The new GM is doing well. But consumers have to live with the ghost of the old GM. And some of them aren’t happy with the response even now from the new company; owners of affected vehicles have complained about long wait times to get the problem fixed.

The government needs to ensure that the reincarnated GM meets the obligations of the ghost of GM past and takes care of customers who so clearly have been wronged.

—The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Comments Comments Print Print