With Criminal Case Dismissed, General Motors' Ignition Switch Fiasco Nears An End

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
with criminal case dismissed general motors ignition switch fiasco nears an end

Four years after launching a massive, incredibly delayed recall aimed at preventing further deaths from its faulty ignition switches, General Motors freed itself from a criminal case launched in the scandal’s wake.

Earlier this week, federal prosecutors in New York wrote U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan, compelling him to dismiss the case. Nathan approved the request, lifting GM free of the caudron. The rationale for dismissing the two criminal charges — concealing evidence from federal officials and wire fraud — comes down to good behavior on GM’s part, something that certainly doesn’t describe its past actions.

Some 124 deaths and 275 injuries over a decade’s time resulted from GM’s 2002 decision to go cheap on its ignition switch design, causing the device to switch out of the run position while vehicles were underway. This led to a slew of crashes after vehicles lost engine power, as well as power braking and steering. Compounding the deadly situation, the faulty switches led to airbag and seat belt pretensioner non-deployment.

GM knew about this danger as early as 2004, prosecutors claim.

The decision to put the faulty switch into production saved GM less than one dollar per vehicle. As accident reports rolled in, GM dragged its feet in issuing a recall. The cost of fixing the issue would be immense. Finally, in February 2014, the automaker issued the first of several massive recalls as the feds stepped in to investigate, eventually laying charges.

With the recall underway, the following year GM forged a deferred prosecution agreement with the New York Attorney General, paying a $900 million fine and agreeing to three years of oversight by an independent monitor. The automaker sufficiently held up its end of the bargain, prosecutors decided. CEO Mary Barra fired over a dozen people involved in the scandal, then spent years attempting to show that the automaker had learned from its actions and forged a new corporate culture.

Given the grievous nature of its transgressions, the company can’t expect to scrub this black mark from its image overnight. The infamous Ford Pinto memo haunted GM’s Detroit rival for years. As well, there’s still civil lawsuits pending, though GM settled hundreds of them in 2017 at a cost of $575 million. The same year, GM settled with 49 states.

In total, the fines and lawsuits resulting from the scandal cost GM more than $2.6 billion, with the recall costing billions more. A hell of a price to save some money, though it’s the human toll that’s important here.

[Source: Reuters] [Image: General Motors]

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  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Sep 22, 2018

    Wow, nobody seems to get it. The *big* difference here is intent. Sure, the victims are just as dead, but the law metes out penalties based upon intent. GM did not intend to kill its own customers. Anyone working in an engineering environment can tell you how hard it is to find root cause of a problem. Something like 30 people die every day in GM cars. It's not like the company is getting reports on every accident. So over a 20-year period, close to 250k people have died in GM cars, yet the government ascribed about 124 deaths to this particular problem - about 0.05% of the total deaths. And many of these accidents included people who were weren't buckled, were speeding, or were drinking. So you tell me how easy it is to determine a root cause for these deaths when 99.95% of the GM car deaths were for *other* causes, and even some of these had other circumstances included? GM did not "drag its feet" once it determined the problem. But they should have been more proactive in changing the ignition switch part number and forcing a recall. GM was perhaps incompetent, or negligent, but they did not have intent.

  • WildcatMatt WildcatMatt on Oct 04, 2018

    "Good behavior"? As in, "You haven't killed anyone lately so we'll let you go this time"?

  • Oberkanone Priced too high though not by much.
  • FreedMike Looks VERY niche to me. But that's not necessarily a bad thing - this might serve nicely as a kind of halo model for VW.
  • SPPPP Point: It's the only EV minivan around. Counterpoint: It's too expensive for a minivan, heavy, ugly, and has bad ergonomics. To me, a PHEV like the Sienna or Pacifica seems like a more sensible solution.
  • Oberkanone Were I able to get past my distrust and loathing of VW I'd want a 2 row ID Buzz. Pricing is about right for the current marketplace. Will it sell? Demand will exceed supply. After two years in the marketplace the novelty may be gone and demand may drop like an anchor.
  • Sam Who do I sue when the car doesn't do what I want it to and that action of the car being autonomous caused the crash?