General Motors has dismissed 15 employees and carpeted five others after a probe by a top US lawyer uncovered a “pattern of incompetence and neglect” that led to the recent recall of millions of its cars for a faulty ignition switch.
Anton Valukas, the lawyer appointed by the US justice department to probe into the collapse in 2008 of Lehman Brothers Holdings – the US bank that precipitated the Global Financial Crisis – said GM management’s inability to address the faulty switch issue “represents a history of failures” where “nobody took responsibility.”
The fault has reportedly been linked to 15 deaths. GM chief executive Mary Barra described Valukas’ report as “extremely thorough, brutally tough and deeply troubling”. The sacked 15 were found to have “acted inappropriately” over the ignition problem, which affected the safe operation of the cars’ airbag systems and which GM had known about for more than 11 years.
The report found there was no sense of urgency over the 11 years and nobody raised the problem to the highest levels of the company despite engineers, investigators and lawyers all having been involved.
The problem affected the Chevrolet Colbalt and a number of other models and was found to have been misdiagnosed “from the beginning”. Experienced engineers responsible for safety “didn’t understand that the airbags would not deploy if the ignition switch changed position”.
Barra said company individuals “failed to disclose critical pieces of information that could have fundamentally changed the lives of those impacted by a faulty ignition switch.
“If this information had been disclosed, I believe in my heart the company would have dealt with this matter appropriately”, she said. “Because of the actions of a few people, and the willingness of others in the company to condone bureaucratic processes that avoided accountability, we let customers down”.
The carmaker has confirmed it will set up a compensation fund for people affected by crashes involving recalled vehicles with a faulty ignition switch. The fund will be managed by Kenneth Feinberg, the lawyer involved in victim compensation in the 9/11 attacks and Boston Marathon bombings.
Since the ignition crisis first surfaced, GM has created a new vice-president of safety for the company, hired 35 safety investigators and put in place a ‘speak up for safety’ programme for employees.