In 18 years covering the automotive industry one of the stories I have done roughly a thousand times is major vehicle recalls. GM, Ford and Chrysler seemingly had big ones on a weekly basis. Traditionally the battle lines are drawn this way: the car companies proclaim they do not make bad cars, their safety records are great, the problem is often the driver’s fault and any issues that crop up are statistically insignificant and not as bad as billed by consumers or their attorneys. A recall by definition is there to deal with a life threatening situation. As such with the cost of litigation so high these days, the car companies know this is largely a waiting game. They tend to stall as long as humanly possible. On the flip side are the lawyers who see big time paydays by suing the big car companies. They and their friends in the recall/auto safety business will tell you the car companies can’t get out of their own way, deliberately hide safety problems in the hopes they will go away and their acolytes can be relied upon any day of the week to say on camera the car companies are in league with the devil himself; putting profits ahead of lives. Critics of those on this side of the recall industry [and it is a big and lucrative one] say if the car companies came up with the cure for cancer you would get a sound bite from them saying the cure came too slowly. In the middle of course is the consumer, who plunked many thousands of dollars for what they thought was a good car and are left wondering whether they bought a lemon. This weighs heavily on future purchases. Also, there is the no-small-matter of owners or passengers who have lost family and friends in ugly, bloody or fiery crashes. Thus, the wide gulf plays poorly for the companies in the kinds of coverage that comes with any major recall. Toyota and its “sticky gas pedals” is the most recent example of this breathless kind of coverage. To this day the lawsuits are ongoing against Toyota which lost millions dealing with this public relations nightmare.
General Motors is girding for this public relations nightmare because of the unusually high risk it runs by messing up this investigation. GM is standing on its head trying to show that it is no longer “Government Motors” or worse yet it’s old self in a new wrapper. New and most powerful ever American female CEO Mary Barra already has already said the company is looking to find out what happened and today brought in the attorney who investigated the Lehman Brother’s corner of the banking meltdown. She needs and wants to give customers an assurance she will get to the bottom of what happened quickly and then fix it to prevent future problems. The company’s statement reads as follows “The investigation is being conducted jointly by a team of inside and outside attorneys led by Tony Valukas, Chairman of the law firm, Jenner & Block, and by GM’s General Counsel, Michael Millikin. In addition to attorneys from Jenner & Block, attorneys from the law firm King & Spalding are also part of the team conducting the investigation."
The company is currently enjoying a product renaissance that has many of its vehicles receiving recommendations because of high quality. It can ill afford to maintain the notion that its old quality remains a hindrance. The GM ignition switch recall harkens back to a dark time at the company; pre-bankruptcy. Many of the cars date back to 2003. This is a problem for drivers in that problems happening prior to the bankruptcy are not likely to stand up in court because of the bankruptcy. If accidents happened after the bankruptcy then there is likely to be a claim. At the time [the mid-2000’s] GM was having trouble staying afloat and in many cases it was looking to cut costs in any possible way. This is no excuse for fatal recall issues and GM gets what it deserves if in fact it had covered up this recall. This is a two tiered recall, the first roughly three quarters of a million vehicles a while back and the second recently adding roughly the same number of vehicles.
The other wrinkle in this case is the fact that it appears the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration knew about this problem years ago and about the accidents related to it. The current claims against GM and NHTSA say they both did nothing for the consumer and NHTSA may well find itself accused of not holding GM’s feet to the fire at the time. This too harkens back to a different time; pre-bankruptcy. The Obama Administration made it clear it felt NHTSA under the George W. Bush administration was weak and ineffectual. So you might watch to see how this part of the story plays out.
The bottom line here is, if you own one of these cars, especially if you are not the original owner, you need to contact your dealer right away:
2006-07 Chevrolet HHR
2006-07 Pontiac Solstice
2003-07 Saturn Ion
2007 Saturn Sky
2005-07 Chevy Cobalt
2007 Pontiac G5
The total recall population is 1.6 million.