Ignition Flaw Fallout Grows For GM

Cameron Aubernon
by Cameron Aubernon

The years-long silence over a faulty ignition switch responsible for 13 deaths and a recall of 1.6 million vehicles made between 2003 and 2007 is about to take a greater toll on General Motors executives as federal investigations, lawsuits and penalties loom over the horizon.

Automotive News reports General Motors’ response to the flaw may be too little, too late for the automaker. Though GM North America president Alan Batey proclaimed last week that GM would take an “unflinching look… and apply lessons learned” from their internal investigation over the lack of action and resulting silence regarding the ignition switch, former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration administrator and former consumer group Public Citizen president Joan Claybrook said the apology was all for naught:

That was a desperate move on their part to avoid heavy penalties. Saying ‘we’re sorry’ is not enough.

NHTSA announced they would be investigating the issue and its handling, and could issue as much as $35 million in fines. Meanwhile, Atlanta attorney Lance Cooper believes GM may be trying to get out in front of a lawsuit related to the ignition flaw by issuing the recall last month. Cooper recently settled a related lawsuit on behalf of the estate of Brooke Melton — whose 2010 death in a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt was the result of the switch cutting off engine power — for undisclosed terms:

I know a lot of good people at GM, and I know that GM is trying to turn itself around. But this is a black eye for the company, because of what they knew for so long and didn’t do anything about.

Cameron Aubernon
Cameron Aubernon

Seattle-based writer, blogger, and photographer for many a publication. Born in Louisville. Raised in Kansas. Where I lay my head is home.

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  • Brandloyalty Brandloyalty on Mar 03, 2014

    Eventually Ford is going to have the same egg on their face for failures of their electric power steering.

  • CopperCountry CopperCountry on Mar 03, 2014

    This isn't about stupid people and their heavy keychains full of junk. It's math. Torque = Force x Distance ... Let's assume that all the when the key is in the "RUN" position, the key ring is pulled to the end of the long slot in the ignition key, and all of the weight of the keychain is hanging from the end of the slot. The torque applied to the lock cylinder by the key chain is a function not only of the weight of the keychain, but the 'angle' of the key, relative to vertical, which defines the "distance" in the equation (i.e. if key is vertical, or if the key has only a hole, there's no 'distance' and no torque; if key is near horizontal, that's max. distance and max. torque.) So weigh a "heavy" key chain, assume the distance from the center of the key to the edge of the slot is 12 mm, and measure the angle of the key when it's in the RUN position, and the torque generated by the weight of the key chain is: T = Force * sin(key angle) * 12 mm. We know that the torque needed to rotate the cylinder from the RUN position was below GM's specification (and that's bad enough as it is,) but what if the angle of the key when it's in the RUN position is more 'horizontal' than what it is in other cars? (or the column is tilted up.) That would exacerbate the problem, and you'd have a "hair trigger" situation, where bumping the key or a driving on a rough road could shut the car off. It's bad enough when people stomp on the wrong pedal (SUA,) but most drivers are going to have a tough time maintaining control when a car suddenly loses power steering. The 13 people who've died may have had heavy key chains for a variety of reasons (self defense batons, medical alert tags, etc.,) and they probably drove a lot of different cars over the course of thousands of miles without any issue ... until they met Cobalt.

    • 84Cressida 84Cressida on Mar 04, 2014

      "until they met Cobalt." LOL, I love the reference to the first Cobalt commercial.

  • Zach Zach on Mar 04, 2014

    Excess keys are annoying imho ,enter Cobalt and they're deadly.

  • Frozenman Frozenman on Mar 05, 2014

    Low buck GM's never really turned me on :)