Detroit PR firm: GM has to act fast

Tanner Friedman weighs in on battle between PR, legal personnel in wake of GM's recall for faulty ignition switches

DETROIT - General Motors is facing public relations crisis as it deals with the recall of 1.6 million compact cars because of faulty ignition switches.

It's the largest recall Mary Barra has had to manage since taking over as CEO of GM in January.

Matt Friedman, who runs the public relations firm Tanner Friedman, speculates on what could be happening behind the scenes at the automaker.

"It's important to understand what's probably happening at GM right now. There's a tug of war going on between PR people and legal people, between the PR people and the lawyers to decide how to handle this situation," said Friedman.

Two congressional committees and the Justice Department are investigating why it took General Motors so long to recall the cars GM admits knowing about the deadly ignition switches about a decade ago, but the recall was not issued until February 2014.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also looking into whether GM held back information from the safety agency or didn't disclose it as quickly as required by law.

Friedman said now is a time for reassurance from the company.

"They need to provide reassurance to reassure the public that their cars are safe and they also need to show concern for the people who've been affected by the situation over the last number of years. If they do those things, they have a chance of being successful in coming out of that. The challenge is legally they're going to be told to be very careful about what they say," said Friedman.

Friedman also said GM needs to move quickly to make things right with its customers.

"The public has a short attention span and they need to reach the public with their message, with their story and what they're  going to do about it really in the next few days maybe weeks at the longest if they have any hope of being successful here," Friedman said.

Here is a timeline of the recall:

On Feb 13., 780,000 Cobalts (2005-2007) and Pontiac G5s (2005-2007) were recalled. Two weeks later, 842,000 Saturn Ion compacts (2003-2007), Chevrolet HHR SUVs, Pontiac Solstice and Saturday Sky sports cars (2006-2007) were recalled.

The vehicles have the same ignition switches.

General Motors said the ignition switches can wear from heavy dangling keys and if the key chains are bumped or the car is driven over rough surfaces, the switches can suddenly change from the run position to accessory or off position. That cuts off power-assisted steering and brakes and drivers could lose control.   It could also impact whether air bags inflate in a crash.

The company said anyone with one of the recalled cars should not put anything on the key rings until the switches are replaced.

GM has also offered these owners free loaners and $500 toward a new GM vehicle.   The owners could use the loaners until their faulty ignition switch is replaced.

The company said 12 people have died in crashes linked to the problem.

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