Despite a January that included Mary Barra becoming the new CEO (historic) and winning the Car AND Truck of the Year Award at the Detroit Auto Show (impressive), GM’s 2014 will be remembered for only one thing: the cover-up.
The now infamous cover-up, of course, was aimed at concealing the fact that a series of faulty ignition switches on GM vehicles led to 13 deaths and scores of injuries.
I know that sounds bad, but wait, it gets worse.
This cover-up lasted for over a decade with the company knowing all of the details the entire time. Instead, they opted to save money (it would have only cost 57 cents per car to have the problem fixed) and decided it would just be better to tell drivers to use a lighter set of keys once the problem was exposed.
Unbelievable, huh? This could only happen once in a lifetime, right?
Well, guess again. During the late 1960s, GM actually used a very similar strategy when dealing with the legendary Corvair controversy.
Back in 1960, GM debuted their First-Generation Corvair, which was immediately hailed by critics. Motor Trend named it Car of the Year for 1960, and Time Magazine said that it was “the forerunner of a new age of innovation in Detroit. The compact auto, designed to stop the imported car invasion, featured an air-cooled rear engine made largely of aluminum.”
The car featured a rear-mounted air cooled engine that distributed the weight to the back of the car, which boosted traction and eliminated the need for a heavy drive shaft to connect the engine in front with the wheels in the back. The design helped it to meteorically ascend the sales charts, selling an astonishing 337,000 units in 1961.
But the glory and the flow of money came to a halt in 1965 when a tsunami like wave of lawsuits and accident reports came pouring in. Then, things became even worse with the release of lawyer (and future presidential hopeful) Ralph Nader’s book, Unsafe at Any Speed. In his book, Nader recounts the controversial events swirling around the Corvair as he describes the gruesome details of people that had been harmed by the car’s malfunctions.
In one particular description of a one woman accident involving Mrs. Rose Pierini, Nader writes, “[The officer] rushed over to the wreck and saw an arm with a wedding band and wristwatch lying on the ground. Two other men came running over quickly and began to help Mrs. Pierini out of the vehicle while trying to stop the torrent of blood gushing forth from the stub of her arm.”
(Check out the recent CBS News report posted below; it’s eerily similar).
Instead of probing the Pierini accident and releasing details about what caused the crash, General Motors went the cover-up route (the same strategy that was just utilized) and “decided to pay Mrs. Pierini $70,000 rather than continue a trial which for three days threatened to expose on the public record one of the greatest acts of industrial irresponsibility in the present century.”
Undoubtedly, General Motors knew that something was wrong, especially when similar reports flooded in. In addition to accidents, independent companies like EMPI conducted studies and realized that it was the vehicle’s suspension causing the problems. EMPI even built a rear stabilizer specifically for the Corvair, branding it the EMPI Camber Compensator.
But when EMPI tried to strike a deal with GM, GM refused, stating that it was ineffective. In fact, GM was still publicly refuting that there were any problems at all with the Corvair. Nader says, “General Motors denied the charges, and instead blamed the accidents on driver negligence.’ Sounds familiar, huh? Think of the current key chain suggestion.
Soon, more companies stepped up to the plate to try and help solve the issue, but GM continually refused. Eventually, with more and more attention going their direction, GM could no longer deny the issue. So, they finally came up with an internal solution and installed an anti-sway bar between the front wheels and a single-leaf traverse spring under the rear end.
But, it was too little too late.
Nader writes, “It took General Motors four years of the model and 1,124,076 Corvairs before they decided to do something for all unsuspecting Corvair buyers by installing standard equipment to help control the cars handling hazards…The Corvair was a tragedy, not a blunder. The tragedy was overwhelmingly the fault of cutting corners to shave costs.”
Fifty years later, GM is pulling all of the same stunts, and the public is once again paying the price. 13 people have died because of the current malfunction and cover-up strategy. But what makes today’s blunders even worse is the fact that we bailed them out of bankruptcy, and despite that, they insist on treating us like idiots.
But at least now that everything has been flushed out into the open for the 2nd time in GM’s history, we can prevent this from happening again. All we have to do is boycott GM and refuse to by their products. Simple enough, right?
Well, not really. Protesting GM will only hurt our own economy and sabotage the successful bailout that just occurred. It’s a double edged sword. Really, there is nothing that we can do except grit our teeth, bend over, and yell out: God Bless America.