This particular issue was raised about defective ignition switches which, with a heavy keychain or even a bump of the knee, could cut off power to the engine, power steering and brakes, and could cause airbags not to deploy.
The faulty switch has been blamed for 13 deaths, however, Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said there could possibly be up to 100 deaths associated with the problem.
The switch has caused the government to open an investigation into the switches of 1.2 million Chrysler vehicles. Now, the federal government is asking why the recall took so long, and why these and other safety issues brought up by inspectors and employees weren’t immediately tackled.
Anton Valukas, an attorney who wrote the extensive report blames a culture inside General Motors that discouraged whistle-blowing. He claims that the complacency shown by executives and the “GM nod”-in which a committee agrees that something should be done, but no one does it-is to be blamed for delays and buck-passing that runs rampant through the company.
That accusation, if taken with some personal anecdotes, wouldn’t be hard to prove. Take the case of Courtland Kelley, who blew the whistle and is paying the price.
Steven Oakley, on page 93 of the report, was too afraid to push safety concerns that he noticed and reported on the Cobalt because his predecessor was “pushed out of the job for doing just that.”
That predecessor was Courtland Kelley, who’s predecessor before him was also relieved of duty for reporting, and insisting on action for, problems.
Together Kelley and his predecessor, Bill McAleer, worked in 1988 on what would become the company’s Global Delivery Survey. This was an audit of GM cars at rail yards across the country, a sort of spot check of vehicles on the last leg of their journey to dealerships. What they found was shocking.
“Bill and I looked at each other in amazement,” Kelley later recalled in a deposition, “that that kind of thing was happening, where the bolts on the front suspension fell out as we drove over the track. I thought that GM alarm bells would go off.”
But they didn’t. And the problem grew for Kelley as he continued to get the attention of executives at General Motors for other problems that he noticed. Finally, Kelley approached his direct supervisor, George Kingston, who in 2000 was director of quality for North American operations, with a heavy heart and lots of anxiety.
“I would go to George and tell him this, but it didn’t seem to surprise him or provoke him to take new action,” Kelley said. “He seemed to take it more seriously when I told him that I could no longer sit by and I may have to personally go to the federal government.”
Kingston’s response was discouraging and infuriating. “He cringed,” Kelley said, “and said that he would prefer that I don’t do that.”
That was it for Courtland Kelley. He sued in 2003 and lost after the case was dismissed. Then he was moved across the company to a much less desirable position.
How much blame will General Motors eventually take for all of these lives lost? I suppose only time will tell.
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