Ten years too late

GM's recall a decade after its problem begs questions, demands answers

Thirteen deaths, 31 crashes, 2.6 million cars recalled. Most appalling, however, is that it took 10 years before General Motors fully admitted the problem publically, issuing a recall.

A defective ignition switch was the culprit - when the key would shake or move in just the right way, the car would turn off and the air bags, power steering and brakes would become disabled as the vehicle continued to barrel forward, leading to a disastrous end in far too many cases. A part was just 1.6 millimeters short, leading to the issues.

Last week, GM CEO Mary Barra, three months into her tenure, faced a barrage of questions from Congress on the matter, specifically on why GM failed to say anything about it for so long.

Barra responded with little more than apologies to families - appropriate, but far from adequate. She stalwartly refused to answer the prominent question on everyone's tongues and minds: Why did it take so long?

Congress' questioning did more for politicians attempting to appear tough on corporate carelessness ahead of a mid-term election, however, than it did for families or citizens desperately searching for answers.

Deferring to a forthcoming report into the matter, Barra pushed through the session with apologies and promises.

Whether or not she personally knew of the defect ahead of time, GM itself must bear the responsibility in this clear case of corporate negligence - attempting to save cash at the cost of lives. Though the CEO claims the "new GM" is more committed to the safety of customers, this reprehensible breach of public trust cannot go unpunished.

The official timeline of events began in 2004 when a problem with the ignition switch was detected with the emblematic failure of pre-bailout GM - the Chevy Cobalt. In 2005, the financially beleaguered company determined that an overhaul and redesign for the faulty part would be too costly.

Not as costly as 13 lives - but then the company wouldn't be living up to stockholder expectations.

The first loss of life attributed to the negligent defect came in 2007, though neither GM nor authorities launched an investigation. It would take 12 more deaths and six more years before GM would formally cite the cause of bloodshed as its defective ignition switch.

The failure surrounding this entirely preventable series of tragedies - in which the majority of those killed were under 25 - lies firmly with the company, its leadership and safety authorities at organizations like the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

Former customers seeking compensation for the lost value of affected cars have filed a $10 billion class action lawsuit against the company. In addition to the compensation, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos is considering a mandatory "park-it" order for the cars impacted, according to Bloomberg News.

The park-it order would suggest the cars not be driven. GM's CEO claims the cars can be driven safely if everything is removed from the key ring attached to the ignition key to prevent the car from inadvertently switching off.

The case delineates the culture of allowing corporate negligence in favor of a bottom line. Defects occur, mistakes are made in production and recalls must be made - these are all annoyances, but they are understandable.

Waiting 10 years and losing 13 lives to admit wrongdoing, however, is an unacceptable action in brazen disregard for human life.

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