GM Corporate Culture Silenced Whistleblower Over Fuel-Leak Recall

Cameron Aubernon
by Cameron Aubernon
gm corporate culture silenced whistleblower over fuel leak recall

To say General Motors has a failure to communicate among itself and with the outside is an understatement that grows with each passing day, especially in light of how it treated a whistleblower in 2003 over its handling of a recall regarding fuel leaks in the automaker’s line of compact SUVs.

Bloomberg Businessweek recounts the story of GM employee Courtland Kelley, who began his career out of community college in 1983, then became a safety inspector five years later for what would become GM’s Global Delivery Survey, auditing vehicles in rail yards for minor problems before leaving for the showroom floor. The survey would grow in scope over time under the hand of Bill McAleer, reporting more serious safety issues such as tie rods falling off, improperly attached brakes and, in the case of the Chevrolet TrailBlazer/GMC Envoy/Oldsmobile Bravada, fuel leaks.

Unfortunately for both McAleer and Kelley on separate occasions, GM not only didn’t consider the seriousness of their findings beyond a small recall of the affected SUVs — made only after a GM exec experienced the leak first-hand on the highway — but made every effort to silence them when they sought whistleblower protection in their individual suits against the automaker for corporate negligence. McAleer was laid-off from GM in 2004, while Kelley was eventually placed in a dead-end position meant to keep him from finding “every problem that GM might have.”

Prior to this final reassignment, Kelley was made brand quality manager and given a fellow employee named Steven Oakley to handle GM’s compact offerings at the time, the Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire. Oakley took his place in 2004 in time for the growing concerns over the Cobalt’s ignition switch. On three occasions, he told the team led by independent investigator Anton Valukas “that he felt pressure to describe something as a convenience issue rather than a safety problem,” citing the fate of his predecessor at the hands of the company’s senior execs. Oakley attempted to address the Cobalt’s issues in a draft of a service bulletin, using language that was verbotten by GM’s product investigators.

As for Kelley, GM claimed in statement made to the publication that they would “reexamine [his] employment claims as well as the safety concerns that he has, and that’s part of our redoubled effort to ensure customer safety.”

Join the conversation
4 of 23 comments
  • APaGttH APaGttH on Jun 18, 2014

    Weren't Ford Explorers rolling over and killing their drivers and occupants in 2003 and Ford was dragging every foot possible and blaming everyone else at the time. I mean I get it. It sucks. It's inexcusable. But this is 11 years and a bailout and a bankruptcy ago. Many of the cast of characters involved in this are gone. Heck, many of the vehicles in question here have quietly gone to the crusher at this point. I guess people can wrap themselves in the warm fuzzy blanket of schadenfreude of digging up bones on issues from over a decade ago and somehow trying to pin them on a new CEO, who by all outward appearances is handling the situation better than any of her predecessors, and is also navigating the corporate and Capitol Hill politics along the way. Mary Barra was handed a big stinking bag of you know what and more skeletons in the closet than the swimming pool in the end scene of Poltergeist...but it's kind of odd for the "I told you so" crowd to be patting themselves on the back on stuff that is a decade plus old - and that the old management made every attempt to sweep under the rug. Technically, and by bankruptcy law let's remember - GM could stick two middle fingers in the air and say, "not our problem, that was the old GM." If you don't think that happens in massive liability cases, your either blind or naivete. Look at how many companies wormed their way out of asbestos liability and toxic waste dumps - for one tiny example.

    • Budda-Boom Budda-Boom on Jun 18, 2014

      Actually it was the entire first generation of Ford Explorers. 1991-2001...and 2-doors/SportTracs were worse than the 4-doors. From 2002 forward they had IRS and were safe. Wife just bought an '11 Equinox LTZ and we're very impressed. Similar to comments I've heard from others about GM vehicles of the last 5-6 years. Vastly improved from the days when ex-Proctor & Gamble people were running amok in the Tubes.


    My 2006 Buick Rainier CXL is built upon the GMT 360 platform and has the 4.2 I6 with AWD. What to say, it's another fantastic GM vehicle from Pennsylvania enjoying the California climate! Essentially Buick got the Bravada/Rainier after GM axed Oldsmobile. 39,000 miles in 8 years and no problems at all.

    • PrincipalDan PrincipalDan on Jun 18, 2014

      Least ticked vehicle in America Buick Rainier. Of course that has more to do with the average demographic than being invisible to cops, although I was sorely tempted to purchase a V8 AWD Rainier and test out that theory of police invisibility.

  • Jeff S I saw a You Tube on this recently that said this truck was going to be midsize and just an EV. I hope that this truck is a true compact and that it will have ICE and hybrid as well especially a plug in hybrid. Matthew please keep us informed of any additional information that is released about this truck. This is good to have more competition in the compact truck market with Toyota already planning to release the Stout and GM talking about a compact truck.
  • SCE to AUX Whoa, I like the looks of that thing.
  • ToolGuy Found this.
  • SCE to AUX Their splash was the sound of breaking through thin ice. It's a matter of time until they withdraw from the US.
  • SCE to AUX I've said for years that the NACS Tesla protocol should become the standard.I had hoped the Feds would settle it, but it's probably better for the industry to do it.Now let's see if Ford and GM will help fund further Supercharger expansion.