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Sekerci: GM should be held accountable for faulty parts

Burak Sekerci, Columnist

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On Feb. 7, 2014, General Motors Corp. announced a recall for nearly 800,000 cars due to faulty ignition switches, which may have caused the deaths of 74 people and many injuries. GM covered the problem for almost a decade, by settling or signing confidentiality agreements with the victim’s families.

The U.S. government also didn’t show enough interest in the topic during these years, even though reports showed that there was a problem with the car itself. A July 2005 crash resulted in the death of a 16-year-old girl. During the crash the airbag of her Chevy Cobalt failed to go off. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was informed about the issue but never followed up on it.

GM has known about the issue for years now, and yet they waited eleven years to disclose this information with the public and recall the faulty cars. The recall number has reached almost 29 million cars.

The reason behind all these recalls and accidents is the faulty ignition switch that GM approved in the first place in 2002. A sudden movement of the car keys can cut the power to the engine, stalling the car and disabling the airbag at the time of an accident, when the driver would need it the most. As mentioned in GM’s internal investigation, the engineers knew that the ignition switch was below standards for GM. From 2002 to 2006 GM tried to fix the problem with different groups of engineers; however, they did not account the fact that when the ignition switch fails and power is cut off the airbags do not deploy. Instead, a team from Indiana University linked the faulty switches with the failure of the airbags after some accidents were reported around 2007.

According to an article published in the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, GM had ordered half a million parts in order to fix the problem before they recalled the cars. The recalls happened two months after GM made the order for the parts.

The news that emerged Sunday just adds another reason not to trust GM and any of its products. It is sad to see a company acting so poorly when it comes to customer safety. Not only did they wait ten years to disclose this problem with the public, but GM also waited an extra two months until they recalled their cars even though they had already made the part orders for the faulty ignition switches.

The fact that GM did try to fix the problem for four years but failed to do so is a disturbing one. The engineers at GM didn’t understand the fact that the failure of the ignition switch would cause the airbags to not deploy. So what does this say about the employee quality of GM? These are engineers that should be hand picked to design every part of a car with scrutiny, thinking about consumer safety at every step.

The internal investigation reports “a GM engineer chose to use an ignition switch in certain cars that was so far below GM’s own specifications.” Then the question arises of how this could be the decision of a single engineer. How did other engineers involved with these cars not see the fact that this switch could cause, at minimum, inconveniences for customers? If I’m able to ask this question, then the public must have its doubts about GM, which decreases the trustworthiness of this company.

Over the past 11 years there were many complaints from customers and dealers about the faulty ignition switches. GM personnel also ignored these issues and concluded that this problem would only cause inconveniences and not safety issues. As accident reports came in, GM officials overlooked them and instead settled with the families. They did not show urgency in fixing the problem but they rather tried covering it up as best as they could. There was at least one case where the families of the victims settled with GM and signed confidentiality agreements. Again what does this say about the moral code of this company? GM tried so hard to save their own reputation as a company, but failed to sustain the safety of its customers.

The NHTSA is also responsible in my terms. There were reports when these crashes were caused by the faulty switch. Although GM settled with the families NHTSA should still have looked into these reports. If they looked closely enough I am sure that they would connect the airbags with the faulty switches. By doing so NHTSA could have prevented some of the accidents and saved lives.

Burak Sekerci is a McCormick sophomore. He can be reached at buraksekerci2017@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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