General Motors logoThe day before Mary T. Barra, General Motors’ new CEO, testified before a congressional subcommittee about why it took the company 10 years to recall 2.6 million vehicles for ignition switch problems, GM on Monday announced another recall, of more than 1.3 million vehicles that could suddenly lose their electric power steering, reports Alex Rogers for Time magazine. The company is being roundly criticized for ignoring the ignition switch problem.

In an editorial for The Dallas Morning News titled “General Motors execs should face prison time over deadly car defects,” Tod Robberson compares GM’s ongoing sales of vehicles with the ignition switch problem (a defect linked to at least 13 deaths) to a chef knowingly selling cakes with rat poison in them. He goes on to write:

Well, of course, no chef would knowingly put rat poison into a cake. But executives at General Motors knowingly allowed Cobalt sedans and other GM cars to continue in mass production, knowing that they contained a serious and deadly defect.

That defect — a faulty ignition switch that would cause the car to turn off at high speeds, disable steering and brakes, and disarm the airbag system — led to the deaths of at least 13 people. GM executives knew about it, did their risk calculations, and decided that no changes or recall needed to be made. They appear to have known that people were dying and being maimed by this defect.

The new GM recall, Rogers writes, involves the following 2004 to 2010 models, whose power-steering motors, steering columns, power-steering motor-control units, or a combination of those the automaker will replace without charge to the car owners, depending on the vehicle:

  • Chevy Malibus
  • Chevy HHRs
  • Chevy Cobalts
  • Saturn Auras
  • Saturn IONs
  • Pontiac G6s

As it happens, the 2004 to 2007 Saturn ION, the 2009 to 2010 Chevy HHR, and the 2010 Chevy Cobalt were also part of the earlier ignition-switch recall, Rogers notes. In that earlier recall, he adds, heavy key rings could jostle vehicles out of the “run” position, thus shutting off engines, power brakes, and steering, and disabling airbags.

In February, Barra called for a comprehensive internal safety review, as this blog has reported, and said “terrible things happened” when it took the company so long to recall the vehicles with the faulty ignition switches. Barra said on Tuesday that GM has appointed its first-ever vice president for global vehicle safety, Time writes.

GM is also considering paying damages to the victims of accidents in the cars that were recalled for ignition switch defects, Bill Vlasic and Matthew L. Wald write for The New York Times. GM has hired attorney Kenneth Feinberg to help the company decide. Feinberg handled payments made in the 9-11 victims fund and in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the Times notes.

In a scathing editorial in the Washington Post, Richard Cohen writes that we now know that GM lawyers argued, in lawsuits brought by car accident victims, that the new (post-bankruptcy) General Motors was not responsible for what the old GM had done.

Cohen argues that although he understands the legal basis for that argument, morally it is “repugnant.” He writes, “As a so-called family, GM has racked up more victims than Tony Soprano’s.” It would be good, he adds, if “the proper parties” were condemned to drive the cars with the defects that it took GM so long to recall.

Cohen also writes that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has become more like a lap dog than a government watchdog, because it failed to insist on a recall years ago when the GM problem first surfaced. There is plenty, Cohen insists, for Congress to investigate.

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