GM's Barra Defends Not Equipping Some Global Cars With Airbags

Aaron Cole
by Aaron Cole

General Motors CEO and Chairwoman Mary Barra defended Wednesday her company’s decision not to put airbags in some of its cars in international markets.

“In many of those places the technology is available and it’s a customer choice if they want it,” Barra said, according to the International Business Times. “There’s many cases where we are well above standards, but we also have to look at affordability otherwise you cut people out of even having the availability of transportation.”

Barra made the remarks in Davos, Switzerland, which was a response to a letter sent to her last year by consumer advocacy groups in the U.S. — including Consumer Reports — requesting the automaker standardize safety features in its cars worldwide.

In her opening remarks, Barra said that automakers could save money by adopting similar safety standards in worldwide markets:

“Right now the industry faces country by country differences that require different technical solutions, different validation solutions — if we can globalize that, because after all a person is a person, it allows the cost of implementing that technology to come down, allowing it to be made available to more people across the globe. So there is a huge benefit from globalizing safety standards.”

She then defended governments’ rights to enforce different safety measures in its cars, and GM’s ability to meet those standards, whatever they are.

“We need to respect all governments — who is say which government is right (in) the commonization of safety standards, because there’s huge variation even in developed markets that drive costs,” she told the International Business Times.

So, wait. What?

Aaron Cole
Aaron Cole

More by Aaron Cole

Join the conversation
4 of 115 comments
  • BklynPete BklynPete on Jan 21, 2016

    To me, this perfectly sums up why GM will never fully regain public trust. Profit above Safety. Regulation above Innovation. Adherence above Leadership. Look, I understand that for 108 years GM's real purpose has been to make money, not cars. But they made lots of money and became the world's biggest company by leading in styling and engineering, creating products that consumers wanted. Alfred P. Sloan was a bean counter who may not have had an ounce of gasoline in his veins, but he understood that. Most of his recent successors, particularly starting with Roger Smith, have not had a clue. For over 30 years now, GM has just been stumbling along to keep up, and they're not always trying. Even a near-death experience doesn't appear to have changed that. No automaker is exempt from criticism, but GM's indifference and lack of thinking about the opportunity here is particularly egregious. Barra's canned talking points are rightfully criticized.

  • WriteCodes46 WriteCodes46 on Jan 21, 2016

    She argues that adding airbags would increase the price of the car, making it unaffordable to poor people. However, the base model of the Mexican Chevy Aveo currently sells for about $11,000 (right now it's a bit lower due to the recent low exchange rate of the peso, but in terms of acquisitive power it's about that), and the fully loaded model, which is the only one that comes with 2 front airbags and 3-channel ABS brakes (it doesn't have seatbelt pretensioners, side airbags, traction control, passenger sensing system, tire pressure sensor, reinforced structure, etc), costs about $16,000. And the car is assembled in Mexico using cheap labor. By contrast, the base model of the US Chevy Aveo also sold for about $11,000, and it came with all the safety features mentioned above (plus 4-channel ABS brakes), and was assembled and imported all the way from South Korea. So, it seems the decision to sell the Chevy Aveo without any safety features in Mexico has more to do with profit margins (and taking advantage of nonexistent safety regulations) than keeping the price of the car affordable (which they did in the US with no problem). The European (made in Poland) Chevy Aveo was also a deathtrap, by the way: If they could get away with it, I bet GM would also sell these deathtraps in the US.

  • TomLU86 TomLU86 on Jan 21, 2016

    She's right about the "affordability". Also a little disingenuous about the "common standards reducing costs". While this is true, common standards will allow EVERYONE to be more efficient and reduce the cost of air bags, etc. But every car buyer in poorer countries will have to pay more, because they will have to get air bags. They simply won't as much more as they might have. Either way, how does commonizing standards, translate into more profits for GM? Won't other automakers get the same break? Where's the advantage?

  • Lon888 Lon888 on Jan 21, 2016

    GM ain't the only ones doing this. In 2014 I rented a brand new Brazilian -built VW Gol in Mexico. No airbags, no ABS, no traction control, not even a seat belt warning light and buzzer. The engine was so basic it even had one of those funny little things called a distributor. It was cheap basic transportation - its only luxury was A/C.