By on June 5, 2014

Valukascover

Today, GM held a press conference regarding the Valukas Report on GM’s Ignition Switch Recalls, featuring CEO Mary Barra, as well as top execs like Mark Reuss and Dan Amman. The only problem was that the report had yet to be released, denying journalists the chance to question GM brass on its findings.

Just minutes ago, the report surfaced online, and we are in the process of reading and analyzing the report. For now, you can download a copy here. Feel free to discuss your own findings in the comments thread. At the press conference, GM also announced the dismissal of 15 unnamed executives, as well as a soon-to-be-detailed compensation program for victims.

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43 Comments on “Open Thread: Valukas Report Released By NHTSA...”


  • avatar
    morbo

    And it only took a decade to figure out how incompetent and useless GM has become. Or that process matters above all else.

    The GM lemon I bought in 2003 taught me that (well, that and the $8k loss i took selling it 6 months later).

    Hopefully fewer people die because of this going forward.

  • avatar
    carguy

    No surprises really to anyone that has ever had dealings with very large companies. Bureaucratic ineptitude and process failures are their biggest operational risks. Some sort of conspiracy to keep this secret for the sake of money was never a very likely scenario.

    The other non-news is that despite having some legal coverage from their bankruptcy process, GM will need to compensate the victims families in order to protect their reputation and move on.

    • 0 avatar
      mitchw

      Persuading the Dept of Justice that there was no cover up, that’s the thing. Barra said what happened was more nuanced.

      We shall see.

    • 0 avatar
      morbo

      The scary thing is the silo mentality described in the report is almost EXACTLY what I see in government. Doesn’t matter if Process X is broken, costly, or dangerous, MY piece of it is OK and that’s all I get graded on.

      • 0 avatar
        koshchei

        That is kinda how it should work at the lower levels. The issue with government is that the people ultimately accountable for ensuring that everything works together in the Big Picture sense are the elected politicians. Rather than taking responsibility for their gross incompetence (let’s put aside ideological nonsense for a moment here — the only thing that any stripe of politician is qualified to do is campaign; They have no marketable skills beyond that), they just pass the buck. If it can’t be passed further, they blame the previous administration, as if being the elected ruler of a country makes you powerless to stop wheels that are in motion.

        General Motors has a different problem; rather than being a body without a head, they’re more like a religious organization in that corporate culture and dogma rule supreme. Inasmuch as it took the Catholic Church centuries to apologize for Galileo, or do anything about the rape of children by priests, General Motors is so massive and calcified that at its most nimble, it takes a decade to react to any sort of stimulus whatsoever.

    • 0 avatar
      martinwinlow

      Perhaps its time we had some anti-monopoly-like legislation limiting the size of companies to prevent this sort of ‘buck stops no-where’ situation happening as well as preventing that other GM-like problem of having to throw billions at a failing behemoth just to save all those jobs and the massive effect on the economy should the worst finally happen?

  • avatar
    mitchw

    From page 4;

    “Along the way, the investigators were misled by the GM engineer who approved the below specification switch in the first place; he had actually changed the ignition switch to solve the problem in later model years of the Cobalt, failed to document it, told no one, and claimed to remember nothing about the change.”

    Whirpool of nausea, here folks. This sounds like Valukas may be saying, ‘one man cover up.’

    • 0 avatar
      gmichaelj

      No, the lawyers know that a one man cover-up theory can’t work – the organization has to have procedures in place to review decisions. He had to have someone else sign-off a boss and/or a co-worker. If GM says its just one guy, then the organization is incompetent and still responsible.

      • 0 avatar
        GiddyHitch

        Agreed. No supplier is going to allow a design change without an ECN, which requires documentation and approvals, especially for a production part. This keeps both the supplier and customer honest and should function as a CYA for the supplier. Though that probably won’t save them from getting sued.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Well, two steps in the bureaucratic “process” involve search for scapegoats, and assignment of blame.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      If it was a “one man cover up” why fire 15 people and reprimand (which likely is career ending anyway) 5 more – most of them senior executive level or higher. (I have not seen the list, but the “media” is saying senior executive or higher – I will gladly be corrected)

      Compared to the long list of corporate scandals of the last 15 years, going back to Enron and further to the collapse of Compaq – this is the most accountability I can think of a corporation has done at any level.

      How many execs axed at BP after the Gulf oil spill?

      How many execs axed at Toyota over floor mats and gas pedals (and Jack provided a full write up of what happened, and the cover up)?

      How many execs axed at any bank of your choice after the financial meltdown?

      How many CEOs have come forward in front of the cameras and said, “we screwed up, we were wrong, and we admit it (carefully worded none the less), and we’re going to make up for it with compensation.

      Again – it isn’t in defense of the indefensible – but I don’t see anything that points to GM trying to blame Bob, the mailroom boy in sector 2G, sub-basement 4, who accidentally maybe possibly shredded a memo that was supposed to go this engineer dude, who we can’t find anymore, and so clearly, this is all Bob’s fault.

      I think this level of, “we screwed up,” is almost unprecedented in the last 15 years.

      • 0 avatar
        mitchw

        Clearly, my comment was not clear. I was trying to obliquely point to Valukas’ specific wording on what DiGiorgio did. Valukas is implying intent. And that’s heavy talk right there.

  • avatar
    Nick

    ‘ the organization has to have procedures in place to review decisions. ‘

    Maybe so, but these procedures are often a perfunctory exercise that demands little to no due diligence. It’s easy to believe that’s what happened here too.

  • avatar
    segfault

    “…the organization has to have procedures in place to review decisions.”

    There’s your problem, right there. Nobody at GM knows what anyone else is doing (this is obvious from the report), and they failed to avail themselves of publicly available data. When multiple third parties correctly identified the root cause, the GM employees investigating the ignition switch issue willfully ignored them, based upon their belief that the third parties had reached an incorrect conclusion, without performing any due diligence to determine whether the third parties might be on to something.

    They can fire all the people they want, it won’t change their culture. In large organizations, it’s difficult to transmit all of the relevant information to all of the correct people (and filter out the irrelevant information), but that’s part of running an effective organization. It’s simply not in GM’s DNA to be able to do so.

    • 0 avatar
      gmichaelj

      Yes, you and Nick are quite right. Procedures are not a cure-all. Communication and most importantly GOOD JUDGEMENT are what seem to be lacking at GM. I think the recent no-impact-on-sales may allow the current regime to sail through on this royal screw-up, but I wonder if GM’s long term culture problems are intractable, and that GM’s brands will have to be sold off at a not too distant point (since I think they have substantial value beyond GM)

      • 0 avatar
        jpolicke

        “..GM’s brands will have to be sold off ..”

        Interesting to think about who would buy what. I guess the Chinese would take Buick; they like them more than we do. GM Korea could take back Spark, Sonic and Cruze and call them Daewoos again. Toyota could buy Corvette and Camaro and badge them as Scions. Cadillac can be sold to Superior Coaches.

  • avatar
    Potemkin

    If you find a problem you tell your boss. If they do nothing you put your head down and go back to work unless you are independently wealthy. Everyone who touched this from the first report to now is culpable and a message should be sent. Mary Barra telling the minions to call her if they see an unresolved problem is unrealistic. The whistleblowers reward is unemployment.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      …The whistleblowers reward is unemployment…

      Back in 1997 the Software Publishers Association was having its national conference. They told all of the representative from the big OEMs (Compaq, HP, Gateway, Dell, Packard Bell, IBM, etc. etc.) that they wanted to have a closed door meeting with us.

      When we got to the conference room in walks Joel Klein and the doors close. The DoJ basically tells us they know we know stuff about Microsoft and want help in building their case. The room was silent – it was awkward.

      A rep from HP raised their hand and all eyes went on her. Her questions?

      “Tell us about the victim/witness relocation program?”

      The room laughed but she made the point we were all thinking. Yes, we know things – but if any of us open our mouth, our next job will be flipping burgers for the night shift at a New Jersey Wendy’s.

      No one talked.

      About six months later one of the reps from IBM retired, and in a widely publicized story laid out all of the OEM dealings with Microsoft. Everything they said was spot on, 100%. They were labeled a disgruntled employee by IBM management, don’t share the view of the company, etc. etc.

      No one came to their defense (and in the era before social media there was no real channel beyond going officially on the record with the media).

      Your point is spot on, if anything in this non-anonymous era it has gotten worse – the reward for a whistle blower is unemployment and a scarlet letter.

      You have to know, somewhere, out there, some engineer is feeling totally vindicated today for being ignored by their superiors.

      • 0 avatar
        319583076

        There’s another side to the whistleblower story…I worked with an engineer who was at the end of his career and completely out to lunch. His last project was pejoratively referred to as a “personal science project”, which in my opinion was absolute fact. I worked on a small portion of this project and my findings were counter to his wishes, so he pursued alternate strategies to overcome my work. If you’ve seen the film, “Memento” or you’re familiar with “contextomy” you would recognize his modus operandi. Regardless of all evidence to the contrary, he continued on his grail quest. As I understand it, he was eventually given the “choice” to retire. Upon choosing retirement, he promptly sued and claimed whistleblower status because he was convinced of the righteousness of his crusade.

        My point is, what’s being reported about these people and their actions and who they are is essentially someone’s opinion. Most people aren’t qualified to hold any opinions. Therefore, I highly recommend skepticism in all things. Including who is or is not culpable and what factors do or do not actually bear on this entire series of events.

      • 0 avatar
        Victor

        Brilliant comment. This happens everywhere, in all businesses.

  • avatar
    wmba

    The regular media still rabbit on about the ignition key turning off “disables” the power steering and brakes and airbags.

    As the July issue of Car & Driver tests out an old Saturn Ion, that is not quite correct. The vacuum booster holds power for the brakes long enough to stop from 70mph, and the steering wheel torque required goes up about by a factor of 5, but not beyond all reason.. Of course, there is the surprise factor when it happens, especially if you’re impaired, which some of the victims were.

    The airbags have their own algorithm for deployment, which varies by manufacturer and model. GM apparently maintains that the airbags are capable of deploying even when the key isn’t in the on position, according to C/D.

    So, it’s the usual screwup. Senators without the first clue about cars asking the wrong questions, NHTSA asleep, and 15 people fired for adhering to prevalent corporate culture, which they did not invent.

    Situation normal.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      There were documented cases of airbags that failed to deploy.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/14/business/gm-air-bag-failures-linked-to-303-deaths.html

  • avatar
    Z71_Silvy

    And the witch hunt continues.

    Remember folks, all this over a 0.00001 chance of something happening.

    • 0 avatar
      Johnny Canada

      Ray DeGiorgio, is that you?

      • 0 avatar
        Z71_Silvy

        Nope, just someone with a brain.

        Your chances of being struck by lightning in your lifetime are the same as having an incident with one of these vehicles…and that’s assuming you own one of these vehicles.

        Should we ban lightning? Clearly that’s as big a threat as these GM cars.

        http://www.srh.noaa.gov/jetstream/lightning/lightning_faq.htm

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          It only matters if someone you love is killed, maimed or injured.

          And it is rare indeed that the loudest fans of GM will ever have someone they love killed, maimed or injured by a faulty GM product. And a real shame because that would change their argument, muy pronto!

          So, no wonder it doesn’t matter to them. But I bet it matters to the people directly affected by this recall.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            >> It only matters if someone you love is killed, maimed or injured.

            While I’ve never had anyone killed, maimed, or injured, I have had the experience of seeing my daughter rolling down the tarmac in a plane protected and guided by systems I helped design. At that moment I was glad we obsessed over every single little detail.

            Sure, you can’t design around every possibility, but if it’s something you can prevent, you fix it. You never know when a loved ones life may depend on it.

          • 0 avatar
            Z71_Silvy

            Emotions do not change the facts.

            Emotions should not get in the way of rational thought.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            It’s somewhat easy to look back at the statistics after the fact, but they had no statistics at the time the decision was made, Who knows even now what the ultimate failure rate could have been. Over time, you could have a 100% failure. No analysis was done. When it comes to human safety, if you can fix it, you make the change. A million dollar per car change to make it survive a locomotive hit might be a bit too much, but 50 cents per car is doable. You don’t treat human life with statistics the same way as a non-critical part like an oxygen sensor or a nav system failure rate.

    • 0 avatar
      319583076

      Most People just don’t understand risk. And it’s not in our culture’s commercial/political/whatever interest to do a damn thing to mitigate that fact.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Some companies, I’m sure GM among them, have an entire department devoted solely to Risk Management.

        • 0 avatar
          319583076

          Right. But understanding and managing risk are different than calling yourself or your department risk management – which is my point. True skill is rare, lying to yourself about skill is common.

    • 0 avatar
      morbo

      Wasn’t the low probability that’s the problem. it’s the parts change without documentation that’s the problem.

      I’m still undecided if DiGrigio was a patsy fall man, or intentionally changed the part quietly to hide the shortcomings of the original design. I can easily see him not realizing the safety implications until too late, and in a panicked mindset making the change and hoping for the best. I can also see him just being a bad engineer and not knowing what he’s doing, given all the problems that ignition switch had beyond the failure mode. Probably a little of both.

      Either way, the failure was his and his department’s. His manager and anyone else that signed off on his work and timecard should be iced; whether they directly knew or not they were responsible. Comes with the job.

      • 0 avatar
        jpolicke

        The lack of configuration management was a problem, but the root cause of the whole affair was accepting the defective switch for use in the first place. GM knew the part was trash before it was installed on the first car.

  • avatar
    Victor

    If this is what GM does in its domestic market, I don’t even want to know what kind of junk they are selling down here and everywhere else. I took my first driving lessons on a Chevrolet Omega 4.1, my first car ever was a Corsa. I will never buy GM again, and that is truly sad.

  • avatar
    fourthreezee

    This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who grew up in the 70′s, 80′s or 90′s –

    For that matter, anyone who comments in these pages who also owns a GM car… I frankly don’t take seriously.

    - Friends don’t let friends buy GM cars -

  • avatar

    On page 60 of the report, a reviewer drove the Cobalt in 2004 and triggered the ignition switch problem. GM personnel were able to easily reproduce it in testing.

    It’s amazing for me to think that a company would consider this a minor problem, since having the car shut off while operating at normal freeway speed would be very likely to cause driver panic, which in and of itself would be a safety issue. Even I know this, and I have nothing whatsoever to do with car design!

    It also seems surprising that no paperwork approving the original switch survives, and they apparently went through terabytes of data looking for it.

    The switch engineer at least did the right thing and fixed the problem on his own. It makes me think there might have been an internal political problem that made it impossible for him to fix the switch in the open. Curious that his fix of the problem made it more difficult for GM to diagnose it …

    Very, very strange and unsettling story. Fortunately, any desire I had to buy GM products was eliminated in the 1970s, when I heard they produced deliberately defective cars with astonishing frequency. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, etcetera.

    David

  • avatar
    Ralph ShpoilShport

    Yay GM! Yay!


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