GM: Full Speed Ahead on Public Relations

GM Announces another Round of Recalls

GM, scrambling to get ahead of a massive loss of consumer confidence, announced yet another round of recalls yesterday, affecting 1.55 million vehicles. The latest recalls are for safety issues unrelated to the faulty ignition switch which prompted two recalls, back-to-back within the last month, involving an additional 1.6 million vehicles.

Yesterday’s recall includes Buick Enclaves and GMC Acadias, 2008-2013; Chevrolet Traverses, 2009-2013, and Saturn Outlooks, 2008-2010. GM has said that a wiring defect could result in the non-deployment of the seat-mounted side air bags.

In addition, the company is recalling 66,000 2013-2014 Cadillac XTS sedans because problems in a brake pump could potentially cause engine fires. GM is also recalling 354,000 of its full-size vans, affecting the 2009-2014 Chevrolet Express and GMC Savannahs, because the head impacts do not comply with requirements for unbelted occupants.

Something Went Very Wrong

Mary T. Barra, G.M.’s new CEO, said that the recalls were indicative of the company’s need to reform its safety efforts.

In an internal video to employees yesterday, she said, “Something went very wrong in our processes in this instance, and terrible things happened. We will be better because of this tragic situation if we seize the opportunity. And I believe we will do that.

The wiring problem related to the non-deployment of side air bags had been previously addressed by GM in a 2011 letter sent to owners, alerting them of the defect. At the time, the company said that it was not necessary to take the car to a dealership unless the warning light had gone on. No recall was issued at the time.

Is NHTSA Complicit?

Some consumers and watchdog groups are continuing to call out National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for its complicity in prolonging GM’s delays and lack of action in dealing forcefully with safety issues. Not only had NHTSA been aware of the consequences of the faulty ignition switches for years but also knew of problems related to the side air bags.

Congressional Action

Congress has asked GM CEO Barra and Acting NHTSA Administrator David Friedman to respond by March 25, 2014, to a number of questions explaining the delays, opening the door to a criminal investigation. Both GM and NHTSA have promised to cooperate fully.

California Representative Henry Waxman, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee has said that the investigative panel “will examine whether GM knowingly allowed faulty and dangerous cars to remain on the road. We will be assessing whether NHTSA has all the tools the agency needs to keep drivers safe.

Senator Claire McCaskill is heading up the investigation on the Senate side at the request of Commerce Chairman, Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.). “My concerns have always been: Is NHTSA really an effective cop on the beat?” McCaskill said last week. “Do they have the resources? The technical expertise and the capability to do everything the public expects them to do in terms of safety?”

In response, NHTSA defended its pro-consumer record, noting its extensive recall activity and the complexity of crash investigations.

Somehow that response doesn’t square with revelations that NHTSA had received 260 complaints about GM cars stalling over the past decade.

Tools”, Senator Waxman? I think that NHTSA probably has all the tools it needs unless you’re talking about the company’s need for a good dose of starch in their corporate spine and a shoehorn to extricate themselves from GM’s back pocket.

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