The ignition lock scandal at GM is a lesson in poor management and fatal austerity measures

Imagine a German car manufacturer was responsible for 56 deaths because a cost killer in corporate purchasing wanted to pay only two cents for a spring in the ignition lock instead of four cents: actually (and hopefully) unimaginable. The entire board of directors would have to take his hat off.

It is different with the General Motors giant tanker. Because the drama has been going through numerous legal and even more management instances for over ten years. Nobody is really responsible, of course, because in the tangle of thousands of e-mails and many minutes of meetings, obviously no single person can really be held responsible.

What is certain is that important decision-makers and managers have known about the problem for ten years. The only consequences were none. "It was covered up, ignored, lied, and tried to get the problem done in time," said a witness to the Congressional Investigative Committee.

The fact that GM, after ten years of ignoring knowledge, granted 56 dead people because the spring in the ignition lock was too weak and called the vehicles back in 2014 does not make things any better.

Only GM boss Mary Barra, barely in office in 2014, campaigned for the problem to be solved and solved. The pressure from the public to continue to sit here had become too strong. In 2014, 13 million vehicles were called back to replace the ignition locks. In addition, there were around 17 million recalled vehicles with brake problems and airbag defects. "All just because every detail should be saved," said a developer before the US Congress.

Anton R. Valukas, a former federal prosecutor at Jenner & Block chief investigator in the ignition lock affair, goes into great detail in his 315-page Report to Board of Directors of General Motors Company Regarding Ignition Switch Recalls, which we have before us Details of the drama. The report reads like a thriller. A lesson for every buyer, controller and engineer that cannot be beaten in terms of drama and authenticity. The chain of failures leaves you speechless. The report would have to be made compulsory reading in every automobile company in order to learn how quickly the disastrous string of exaggerated austerity measures, cover-up attempts and wrong decisions can turn into a disaster. (On request, I would be happy to send you the report as a PDF, e-mail to me is sufficient).

It started with a single engineer’s decision to buy a specific Delphi ignition lock that was inexpensive but “far below GM’s specification,” the investigators found. A spring that was too weak caused the ignition key to open when the lock was touched lightly and shut the engine.

Although several committees subsequently dealt with the lock, none came to the logical conclusion that the airbags would also be deactivated if the ignition was switched off accidentally. "The GM employees should have known that the airbags could not ignite when the ignition was switched off, because the cars are also designed in this way at GM," the investigators criticize. In fact, people in GM models mostly died because the airbags did not ignite.

Enlightenment Valukas notes with surprise: "Everyone involved had a responsibility to solve the problem, but nobody acted responsibly." A resounding slap in the face for all GM management staff.

The development managers only saw switching off the engine as a restriction of convenience because the servo aids of the brakes and the steering would also fail. The technicians were of the opinion that the vehicle can still be checked even with the engine stopped. The fact that the airbag system is also switched off was obviously overlooked or ignored.

Between 2004 and 2006, expensive recalls and a tense financial situation at GM would have distracted from the ignition lock problem. A recall of the ignition lock was "refused for cost reasons". The responsible product investigation department, expressly commissioned with the search for security gaps, came to the conclusion in 2005 after a short four-week investigation that there were no security problems. When fatal accidents later developed, a police officer from Wisconsin and a research group from the University of Indiana came to the conclusion that the ignition lock was responsible for the failure of the airbags. The penny still didn't fall at GM, although one should have known that the airbag system was structurally connected to the circuit and would not ignite without power.

The engineer responsible for purchasing the castle sensed his mistake and secretly exchanged the castle for a better one. It was only in 2013 that the lawyer of a complaining victim found that the Chevrolet model Cobalt better locks were installed from a certain point in time, so the engineer must have been aware of the lack of the old ignition lock. However, he could not remember buying better ignition locks.

Possibly in order to save a few cents per car, GM has now raised claims for damages of over three billion dollars, half of which have already been paid out. There are another 4180 applications for compensation, of which only 128 have so far been recognized. "GM is relegating itself to the hesitant handling of applications," criticizes a victim lawyer.

That the problems of the ignition lock should actually have been known from the beginning is evident from the humorous note by one of the lock designers. He put a handwritten note on the prototype of the castle, which read literally: "The switch from hell".

2 comments on "The ignition lock scandal at GM is a lesson in poor management and fatal austerity measures"

  1. | 3. October 2015 19 to: 03 | Reply

    Dear Mr. Groschupf

    Please can you send me the report?
    Best wishes from Spain
    Manuel Rodriguez

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