By on June 18, 2014


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.”

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23 Comments on “GM Corporate Culture Silenced Whistleblower Over Fuel-Leak Recall...”

  • avatar

    No, not Bravada!

    • 0 avatar

      Bravada- meh.

      Saab 9-7, I’d be heartbroken. Let’s keep the coveted 9-7x Aero “offa dat list”, shall we?

      • 0 avatar

        GM is practicing a selective recall as it is, I think you’ll get your wish… although I think this is for the previous platform GMT325, not GMT360.

        • 0 avatar

          I’m enlightened.

          I actually saw- in the wild (driving)- a Bravada the other day. Couldn’t believe it, haven’t seen one in at least a year or more.

          First generation Bravadas- haven’t seen them in years. You know, ’91 to ’94’s, the sweet ones (330 platform?) with the digital instrument cluster. Guess they fall prey to rust rather easily. Though seemingly not nearly as quickly as their exhaust system does.

          Have yet to see a 9-7x Aero in the wild. (Frown face)

          • 0 avatar

            Oh I had a thing for one of those once back in the day. Man those were sweet.

            According to the wikis GMT325 was the platform designation until MY02, although I know there were 360s in CY 2002. The post MY95 body style Bravadas were only available in some kind of AWD system as opposed to true 4×4. I can’t recall if this was always the case or not.


            I’ve seen two Saablazers, one last year at the dentist’s office and one parked randomly in the receiving area of the job I had in 2011. Both looked nice and I believe were all vortech 5.3 V8 equipped as a standard option, but I think the Bravada AWD system came along for the ride too. I’d be interested to know if the Buick Rainer, which had the vortech 5.3 as an option, was available in standard 4×4 or you had to get the AWD.

          • 0 avatar

            28-C-L …. As the owner of a ’04 Rainier with the 5.3, it only came with the AWD option. The selectable system was not available on that model.

          • 0 avatar

            @28-Cars-Later, SmartTrac AWD. God as a teen I read and reread that brochure over and over trying to memorize every detail of that system.

            Now that I have an AWD CUV I’ve been tempted to buy Smart Trac badges on eBay, stick ’em on there and see if anybody “gets” it. ;)

          • 0 avatar

            “Both looked nice and I believe were all vortech 5.3 V8 equipped as a standard option”

            4.2i models had the Atlas I-6

            5.3i models were the 5.3 V-8

            Aero Models had the 6.0 V-8

            All were AWD with a limited slip rear.

            I’d say the Isuzu Ascender is pretty rare too.

          • 0 avatar

            @racebeer, PrincipalDan, SC5door

            thx for the info.

  • avatar

    In breaking news, GM reports that every single computer used for corporate email in the past 15 years has had it’s hard drive wiped out in a “crash.”

  • avatar

    It’s almost like GM executives didn’t want any publicity about how crappy their cars were(/are?). Seems like crazy talk to me. We all know that GM is the mark of excellence after all. So I’m sure everything is fine.

  • avatar

    ‘Redoubled effort’, eh? Anything multiplied by zero is still zero, but ‘redoubled effort’ might fool some.

  • avatar

    11 Years Ago? In 1959, GM Steering wheels impaled drivers in moderate front end crashes.

    There is a statute of limitations. Even if it doesn’t apply in this situation, what does it have to do with GM now.

    GM should have changed its name to Ally, like GMAC. Or Anything. Cadillac.

    If the typical TV viewer knew that Ally was the bailed out GMAC, they would go nuts.

    • 0 avatar

      telescoping “energy absorbing” steering column shafts did not become standard (required) until the 1967 model year. I’m sure more cars makes than just GM products were impaling drivers in the late fifties.

  • avatar

    And is anyone surprised by this?

  • avatar

    Love it. Keeps reminding me why I won’t purchase another Chevrolet.

  • avatar

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      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.

  • avatar

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      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.

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