What started as a simple and routine recall has exploded for General Motors into a worst-case scenario of negative public opinion.
This is bad.
Take the Audi PR nightmare of unintended acceleration in 1986, combined with Toyota’s recent battle with allegations of the same problem and then multiply it by a million. This is so much worse because there are documented deaths as a result of the problem, along with proof that GM has known about the fault for over a decade.
This is really bad.
It all started in 2001 with a single faulty ignition switch.
In 2001, GM test engineers experienced a problem with the ignition switch in a Saturn ION. A mechanism designed to hold the switch in place failed. The same problem happened in tests in 2003 and in 2004, according to a CNN timeline. In 2007, GM became aware of 10 fatalities blamed on the switch turning off and causing airbags not to deploy in accidents. In 2014, GM issued a recall on cars from 2007 and earlier that used the switch.
So far 1.6 million vehicles have been recalled, with another 1.7 million announced earlier this week. That’s a total of 3.3 million cars recalled for a problem with a very simple fix that has been directly tied to at least 12 deaths now. Some reports even say over 300 people have died as a result of the fault.
The Detroit News had an interesting take:
[T]he death of an employee in a GM plant triggers a mandatory report to the automaker’s directors, a policy the company confirms. But word of at least 12 deaths associated with an ignition switch problem known as far back as 2001 does not rise to senior management until late January?
Late January 2014, that is.
This is really, really bad.
GM was just beginning to find its groove. It’s been gathering awards and praise for new models and enjoying a growing reputation for vastly improved quality. A setback like this doesn’t necessarily affect the quality of new cars, but it raises this question in the minds of consumers:
Considering the details of this mass recall, is the new GM any better than the old GM?