Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Honour Among Thieves and Car Manufacturers

"Sitting here today, I cannot tell you why it took years for a safety defect to be announced in that program, but I can tell you that we will find out."
Mary Barra, Chief Executive, General Motors 
General Motors CEO Mary Barra is sworn in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 1, 2014, prior to testifying before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation. The committee is looking for answers from Barra about safety defects and mishandled recall of 2.6 million small cars with a faulty ignition switch that ha€™s been linked to 13 deaths and dozen of crashes. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) 
"There is a risk, under certain conditions, that your ignition switch may move out of the 'run' position, resulting in a partial loss of electrical power and turning off the engine."
"The risk increases if your key ring is carrying more weight (such as more keys or the key fob) or your vehicle experiences rough road conditions or other jarring or impact related conditions."
"If the ignition switch is not in the run position, the airbags may not deploy if the vehicle is involved in a crash, increasing the risk of injury or fatality."
General Motors letter of advisement

"She was shocked, angered and dismayed. Notice was provided to General Motors of the Bakers' intention to sue for wrongful death and punitive damages given that GM knew of the defects for at least the past ten years and did nothing about it."
"Nick was a really good kid. It was a real tragedy for everyone in the family to say the least."
Ottawa lawyer Russel Molot
Nick Baker was 22, driving his 2006 Saturn on his way to celebrate his birthday with his parents at Upper Canada Village. He never got there, and his parents, Suzanne and Danny, never did have the opportunity to hug their son and wish him a happy birthday. Unfortunately, his vehicle was involved in a collision with an oncoming Ford Explorer on October 18, 2012. The family had always wondered what had caused the crash, and they wondered as well why it might have been that the car's airbags didn't deploy. Nick was killed.

And then a letter arrived on Monday, from General Motors by regular mail, addressed to their son. Nick's parents, Suzanne and Danny Baker opened the letter and that's when they finally discovered that the car their son was driving when he died had a dreadful mechanical defect. A deadly one, in fact, linked to at least thirteen deaths in North America. And it was a mechanical defect of deadly serious potential that the company had known about for ten years.

The forever-grieving family retained Ottawa lawyer Russel Molot. And Mr. Molot has filed an intent-to-sue notice to General Motors on behalf of his clients, the Baker family. The faulty part in the lethally dysfunctional ignition switch that caused their son's untimely death would have cost GM about a dollar to fix. And now they are aware of the details that had eluded them for so many years; their son was trustingly driving a vehicle with a defect so deadly it killed him.

When the new CEO of General Motors appeared before a U.S. Congressional committee to respond to their queries about that ignition flaw in the carmaker's compact cars she was apologetic to the victims' families, and swift to promise an internal investigation would follow. The faulty ignition switch in the company's Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn models represented a clear danger to owners of those vehicles, and she was promising to investigate the situation whereby the country's largest automaker failed to warn its customers.

She will not, though, accept responsibility or accountability for the fact that GM has finally, horribly tardily, recalled 2.6-million vehicles for the purpose now of fixing those ignition-switch defects. As well as another 1.3-million vehicles to address power-steering problems. "I was not part of that organization at the time", she explained to U.S. senators. The fact of the matter is GM went through Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings in the U.S.

And the Companies Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) in Canada, where the automaker was virtually absolved of anything that might have pertained to its past operations. Claims against GM before its corporate restructuring that took place in 2009 can be set aside; their slate is considered to be wiped clean, for they began all over again. Like a religious confessional when those who undergo the process are cleansed of their declared (or undeclared) sins of omission or commission.

Much as Chrysler chief executive Sergio Marchionne had the unmitigated gall to inform the governments in Ottawa and Ontario that he has a "clear conscience", relating to his decision not to bother repaying $810-million of the $2.9-billion bailout that Canadian taxpayers forked over to bail Chrysler out in 2009. That was the "old" Chrysler. Mr. Marchionne represents the "new" Chrysler.

Aside from presenting themselves as cravenly dishonourable, and obviously untroubled by it, it will be interesting to see how this matter plays out in court when the families of their victims seek justice on behalf of those they have lost because of a lack of social, civil responsibility in an industry whose bottom line is considered far more important than the lives of a few unfortunates.

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