Bloomberg reports now-former General Motors engineer Brian Stouffer conducted a two-year internal investigation into the out-of-spec switch at the heart of the automaker’s current recall crisis, only to find confusion and resistance along the way to finding answers as to why vehicles up through 2008 were stalling out. In addition, Stouffer reported to three different executives assigned to the investigation in one year as it moved along, as well as the lack of sufficient cases that met the criteria required. Only in late 2013, when Delphi responded to Stouffer’s inquiry by providing the document showing the changes made to the switch back in 2006, did the investigation come to a head.
Automotive News reports dealers are still waiting for the ignition switches meant to replace the out-of-spec switch at the center of the ongoing recall crisis at General Motors. The switch was to have arrived at dealerships beginning this week, yet most dealers are in a “holding pattern” on deliveries. Once the parts do arrive, service bays will begin work on affected customer vehicles immediately before turning toward the used lot, where vehicles under the recall are currently parked until the customer vehicles are fixed.
In an interview with New York Magazine, consumer advocate Ralph Nader said General Motors CEO Mary Barra has “a good opportunity” to make serious changes to the corporate cost culture that gave rise to the 2014 ignition recall crisis. Suggestions include appointing an independent ombudsman with a direct line to the president and CEO for engineers who need to speak out about possible problems without having to go through “cost-concerned bosses,” as well as holding accountable all involved in any cover-up of any potential product issues.
Nader also believes the federal government should go after personal prosecutions of those tied to the current recall, but adds that unless the media keeps putting the pressure on the Justice Department to do so, the only thing that could come is a settlement in the vein of the one reached between the agency and Toyota earlier this month.
General Motors is facing two separate lawsuits related to failures of the ignition switch recalled last month, while also preparing to bring their case before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee next month, led by a representative who honed his skills upon Firestone.
Meanwhile, reports of a quiet swap between the defective ignition switch and an improved switch in 2006 – a swap that may have violated internal protocols -may have serious repercussions for GM and now-bankrupt supplier Delphi.
Finally, a test drive gone wrong results in a GMC Yukon left to burn, whose prompt investigation is only the beginning of a long learning process in how GM handles safety in the future.
During the Saturn Ion development in 2001, a preproduction model had an ignition cylinder problem that was caused by, you guessed it, “low detent plunger force,” the result being that it takes a low amount of effort to knock the key out of the “run” position.
The Daily Caller says it has emails that prove that the pensions of 20,000 salaried retirees at Delphi were terminated “solely because those retirees were not members of labor unions.”
The emails, says the conservative website “contradict sworn testimony, in federal court and before Congress, given by several Obama administration figures. They also indicate that the administration misled lawmakers and the courts about the sequence of events surrounding the termination of those non-union pensions, and that administration figures violated federal law.” (Read More…)
As galling as the auto bailout was for many Americans, the hidden “stealth bailouts” that occurred during the government-led industry reorganization are often even more galling. Today the final chapter of one of those “stealth bailouts” has taken place, as GM has sold its stake in its spun-off supplier Delphi for $3.8b, booking a $1.6b gain on the deal. So, how is GM divorcing its former in-house supplier a stealth bailout? Back in the dark Summer of 2009, the government organized a GM-led rescue of Delphi, which had been languishing in bankruptcy since 2005 (after GM. By buying a chunk of Delphi for $2.5b of the government’s money and selling it back for a profit, GM’s helped itself to a little extra bump of public money. Oh, and did we mention that GM dropped all kind of pensions in Delphi’s lap when it spun the supplier, including workers who had never been employed by Delphi.
But that’s not the worst part: any guesses as to why GM’s stake in Delphi is suddenly worth so much more? A recovering industry, perhaps? Wrong. Shortly after GM bought back its stake in Delphi, the supplier dumped $6.5b worth of pensions onto the government’s Pension Benefit Guarantee Company, causing huge benefit cuts and hidden government costs. What did the PBGC’s stake, given as “partial compensation” for that pension dump, yield it? A cool $594m. Meanwhile, thanks to the government ‘s arguments, GM still had to top-up UAW retiree pensions, leaving non-union retirees and members of other unions out in the cold [read all about it in a just-released GAO report in PDF here]. A shell game inside of a political payoff inside of another shell game, in other words. There’s nothing to not love here…
When former auto task force boss Steve Rattner’s former firm Quadrangle recently settled a “pay-to-play” corruption investigation, it threw Rattner under the bus, saying:
We wholly disavow the conduct engaged in by Steve Rattner, who hired the New York State Comptroller’s political consultant, Hank Morris, to arrange an investment from the New York State Common Retirement Fund. It is our understanding that Mr. Rattner also arranged a DVD distribution deal for a movie produced by the Chief Investment Officer’s brother in the middle of the investment decision-making process. That conduct was inappropriate, wrong, and unethical. Mr. Rattner is no longer with the firm and is not a part of today’s settlement. Quadrangle will fully cooperate in the Attorney General’s ongoing investigation of Mr. Rattner and others.
According to the DetN, that stinging indictment by Rattner’s former firm has inspired House Republicans to call for an investigation into whether Rattner was behind a deal in which some Delphi retirees lost their pensions while others didn’t. (Read More…)
As GM tools up for production of its Volt extended-range electric car, Automotive News [sub] has noticed something interesting: workers at GM’s new battery pack assembly plant are not represented by the United Auto Workers. Located in the heart of UAW territory (Brownstown Township, MI), the Volt battery plant represents the very jobs that local politicians and GM leadership hailed as the green future of the auto industry. When the plant opened, GM Chairman/CEO Ed Whitacre waxed eloquent about the opportunities:
The development of electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt is creating entire new sectors in the auto industry – an “ecosystem” of battery developers and recyclers, builders of home and commercial charging stations, electric motor suppliers and much more. These companies and universities are creating new jobs in Michigan and across the U.S. – green jobs – and they’re doing it by developing new technology, establishing new manufacturing capability, and strengthening America’s long-term competitiveness.
As long as they do so without UAW representation, apparently. Needless to say, if GM can get away with using non-union workers at a crucial plant that’s supposed to represent the firm’s future, things aren’t looking so good for our friends in organized labor.
Ford’s announcement that it would restore merit pay increases and 401k matching to salaried employees has drawn protests from the UAW even though it has restored profit-sharing for UAW workers. The UAW’s head of Ford representation Bob King tells the Detroit News:
They’re two separate issues. We gave up a long laundry list of benefits. None of that is being restored. We think they should use the money to pay down debt
We agree that they’re not linked,” say Ford spokesfolks. “But we don’t believe that we violated the contract.” And while the union bashes Ford for restoring white-collar benefits, it’s actually reaching out to salaried Delphi retirees, as MLive reports that UAW boss Ron Gettelfinger has written a letter to Delphi asking it to restore salaried pensions which are being cut. So does the UAW support salaried auto industry employees, or does it see them as an opponent in a zero-sum game? More than likely, the answer is neither. Or both. As this video of chaos breaking out at a UAW meeting of NUMMI workers seems to indicate, the UAW is still an out-of-control juggernaut, unable to share a coherent perspective on the industry. But hey, thanks to their ownership of a majority stake in Chrysler and about 15 percent of GM, they’re an out-of-control fact of life.
After we posted our take on the reported ouster of EV startup Aptera’s founders, Popular Mechanics jumped in to deny the charge. The magazine dutifully reported that Aptera’s founders had conveniently decided to take a vacation, unquestioningly citing the assertions of Aptera CFO Marques McCammon. But it seems the underlying conflict– whether to go to market with the existing product or cut costs while waiting for federal funding to produce a redesigned vehicle– has been resolved in favor of Aptera’s new auto industry insiders. A company press release confirms that the 2e has been delayed until 2010, indicating that the lack of federal funding (or some unanticipated private investment) is the stumbling point. The situation with Aptera’s founders, however, is still something of a mystery. And it’s not the only curiosity to be dredged out of Aptera during this challenging interlude.
GM was given its last $30B of taxpayer money as it entered bankruptcy in early June of this year. By the time GM exited Chapter 11 protection on July 10, there was only $16.4B left in its bailout escrow account. According to an 8-K form filed today with the SEC, GM now has only $13.6B remaining in that account, less than one-third of GM’s $50B total bailout (not counting assistance to GMAC). GM’s rescue of its major supplier, Delphi, consumed $2.8 billion from its escrow account. According to the form:
Approximately $1.7 billion was utilized to acquire a membership interest in the new Delphi entity and approximately $1.1 billion was expended in the acquisition of Delphi’s global steering business, certain domestic facilities and other related payments
If you’re familiar with Delphi—a former GM division with the words “bankrupt since October 10, 2005” over the door—then you’ll know that they’re a not-so-hidden cancer on GM cancerous corpse. Even as The General seeks to survive with a federal IV stuck in its metaphorical artery, it continues to peel off just enough cash—now your cash—to keep the parts maker making parts. For vehicles no one’s buying; but that’s how the industry doesn’t roll these days. So, some bad news from the oracle then. First, GM’s told their pals at the SEC (accounting scandal forgotten) that they’re accelerating a $50m payment to Delphi. [NB: Delphi had asked GM for a $100m hurry-up.] Can you say running on fumes? Delphi can. ”The Company believes the amendment and accelerated GM support will enable it to preserve available liquidity given the difficult economic environment, particularly in the global automotive industry,” Delphi said in a filing with their pals over at the federal bankruptcy court. Judge Robert Drain, no less. And the cutbacks keep on happening!