Recent news stories about General Motors – its vehicles, its people and their questionable policies – have created a new class of car-owners. We could call them GM Gamblers.
They are the millions of motorists who own and drive a GM product despite the likelihood that, at any moment, their vehicle could undergo a glitch that might cost them their lives. You might respond, “Well, doesn’t that risk exist no matter what car we drive? No car is perfect.”
No argument there. Car manufacturers (both foreign and domestic) have been sending out faulty products for many years. But in most cases these carmakers have issued recalls promptly, after the defects have become apparent. Early this year we learned that serious ignition defects have been discovered in two models each of Chevrolet, Pontiac and Saturn automobiles.
If the ignition switch was bumped or otherwise disturbed while the car was underway, the vehicle might immediately shut down, robbing it of power steering, power brakes, airbags and other operating essentials. GM management has acknowledged that 13 deaths and 31 crashes have resulted from these defects, which the company had been aware of long before the scandal became known to the general public. A government study has found more than 300 other crashes that resulted from the ignition defects and the GM cover-up.
As I write this column, on May 21, GM has issued further recalls, including possible defects on Cadillacs. This brings the total number of recalled vehicles to 13 million.
Mary Barra is GM’s chief executive officer. She worked 33 years for GM before being named to the top post in 2013. In April hearings before a U.S. House subcommittee, she testified that she had not been aware of the ignition defects until January of this year. Her statement is hard to believe. At the very least, common sense should have compelled Barra – before accepting her appointment as CEO – to ask “Does GM know of any existing defects in our cars that could cause death or injury to our customers?” There is no evidence that Barra made such an inquiry. Now she is promising to find the answers. It’s unlikely that doing so will return the 13 victims to life.
What major changes can we expect because of the GM can of worms? Will there be prosecutions and long prison terms for the GM executives and government officials who knew about the vehicle defects and stayed silent? Will motorists around the world turn their backs on GM and vow never again to buy a GM product? Could General Motors conceivably go out of business because of its apparent disregard for the lives of its customers?
Don’t bet on it. Although GM sales may temporarily suffer, and a few miscreants may receive sharp raps on their knuckles for their crimes, GM will be around for many years to come. Just like the major financial companies in the 2008 Wall Street crash, GM is too big and too rich to fail. Their lawyers and their Washington lobbyists will ultimately defeat attempts to make GM pay the full price for its wrongdoing.
GM’s largest partner in this survival-of-the-slimeballs will be the American public. At first we will send up a cloud of outrage and sympathy for GM’s victims, but that will fade. Somehow we always withstand the misery of others, as long as they’re just names in the news stories.
Millions of America’s car owners have a long tradition of ignoring recall notices, even when the recall applies to the vehicle they’re driving. In the face of this “It may happen to the other guy, but never to me” attitude, the blame for further defect-related deaths and injuries will be deflected away from Detroit and onto the shoulders of motorists who deliberately refuse to heed the recall warnings that are issued.
If you had the necessary cash and were forced to buy a new or used car tomorrow, would you buy a GM vehicle? I wouldn’t. Until or unless GM management is somehow exonerated from this bloody debacle, I’ll assume they’re a conniving gang of materialistic monsters. I may be wrong, of course. Time will tell.
But even as I criticize GM, I’ll state my belief that GM’s shortcomings are shared – even though perhaps not equaled – by corporations, political parties, religious bodies, universities, military units, hospitals and a thousand other entities scattered across our nation and the world. Today, silence in the face of known wrongdoing is as common as the sunrise.
Controversies such as General Motors alleged cover-up and similar outrages will continue until the day when whistle-blowers are encouraged, honored and protected for their honesty and bravery. But don’t hold your breath until that day arrives. For now, “mum’s the word,” “don’t rock the boat,” and “everyone hates a snitch” are the reigning watchwords. Even when they kill innocent people.