You’ve probably heard the story. General Motors chief executive Mary Barra (pictured above) is in Washington today to face questioning before members of the House and then members of the Senate about how a faulty ignition component may have caused the deaths of 13 people.
It’s yet another example of corporate greed costing lives, and may very well go down in history and textbooks as the classic example of injustice for the sake of money. GM is facing hundreds of millions in fines, plus devastating lawsuits.
For a part that costs less than $10 wholesale, and a fix that takes under an hour.
According to the Washington Post, it is a remarkably cheap and easy fix to replace the ignition switch component which has been blamed for at least 13 deaths. And General Motors knew about the defect for over a decade and chose to wait until now to make the recall.
Such recklessness, if what we’ve seen is factual, is certainly cause for punishment and a drastic change in how the auto maker functions.
Why wouldn’t they act sooner?
The Washington Post suggests that the corporate culture at GM is one in which “bad news” is suppressed. According to one author, GM has the habit of hiring the best and brightest, but then forcing those people into a system that rewards conformity, and teaches that giving your boss bad news means bad things for yourself.
This means that not only did the error go unreported, but it got worse. Instead of changing suppliers when almost the exact same problem happened in 1997, GM simply continued to use the same supplier and the same equipment. In 2001, it was reported that new Saturns had the same problem as the 97 vehicles, but nobody bothered to check and see if it had been addressed. In 2004, they re-discovered the problem again, only to choose to not fix it. In 2005 this resulted in multiple reports of unsafe vehicles and a fatal crash.
In response GM then re-designed the part, but used the same components and failed to recall already faulty vehicles. Injuries and deaths continued.
Now, facing a litany of lawsuits, investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and hearings in the government, GM is in big trouble. And maybe it ought to be.
Maybe safety should always be the bottom line for corporations, even if it means a little inconvenience and a little less profit.