News Release

GM: Nader Points to Systematic Safety Regulation Failure


RALPH NADER, GARY RUSKIN, ruskin at, @garyruskin
RENA STEINZOR, rstein at

Noted public interest activist and corporate critic Nader recently wrote the piece, “Carnage is a Corporate Tradition” in USA Today.

Nader also joined Rena Steinzor, president of the Center for Progressive Reform, and Gary Ruskin, director at the Center for Corporate Policy, to call on the Congressional Judiciary Committees to enact legislation to create criminal liability for product safety failures. Their letter states: “Revealingly, nearly ten years before this recall, in November 2004, General Motors initiated an engineering inquiry to examine whether a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt ‘can be keyed off with knee while driving.’ In March, 2005 the Cobalt Project Engineering Manager closed this inquiry ‘with no action’ because the ‘lead-time for all solutions is too long,’ and the ‘tooling cost and piece price are too high’ and that ‘[n]one of the solutions seems to fully countermeasure the possibility of the key being turned (ignition turned off) during driving.’ The Project Engineering Manager’s ‘directive’ concludes that ‘none of the solutions represent an acceptable business case.’

“It is clear that this tragedy was mostly preventable if General Motors had properly warned NHTSA and the public at the outset of its documented suspicion of an engineering defect in its cars. …

“The General Motors ignition switch defect is the latest example of a grievous tradition in the history of multinational corporations: the failure to warn U.S. regulators of deadly product defects. This tradition includes, among many other tragedies, the Dalkon Shield, Ford Firestone tires, cigarettes, asbestos, Guidant heart defibrillators, Bayer’s Trasylol, Ford Pintos and Playtex Super-absorbent tampons, to name a few. In March, an FBI investigation revealed that Toyota misled the public about one cause of unintended acceleration in some of its cars, and tried to hide a second cause from NHTSA. …

“The failure to warn is a problem that potentially afflicts most manufacturers, not merely the auto industry. Only a systematic solution will fix this systematic problem. A good solution must be broad in scope. The best solution lies in establishing incentives to strongly predispose corporate officials to promptly disclose product dangers to regulators and the public.”

Executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, Ditlow said today: “We dispute GM’s claims that its safe to drive the vehicle with just the key in the ignition since rough road conditions can also shut off the ignition.” See the group’s statement: “Consumer Advisory On Gm Ignition Switch Recalled Vehicles.” [PDF]

The group has also states: “NHTSA [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] has sat on a defect petition since November 2013 on a deadly algorithm defect that can cause airbag non-deployment in Chevrolet Impalas with Advanced Airbag Systems approved for compliance with FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) 208 on June 12, 2000. …

Ditlow says: “The Center is deeply troubled that NHTSA once again may have missed an advanced airbag like it did with the Cobalt. The Center is even more troubled that once again NHTSA has kept whatever it is doing secret behind closed doors even though there is a specific legal requirement for NHTSA to make its activities public.

“From calendar year 2000, when GM could have introduced advanced airbag vehicles with the flawed algorithm, just through 2010, there were 143 frontal impact fatalities in model year 2000 to 2010 Chevrolet Impalas where the airbags failed to deploy with 98 of the fatalities being occupants who were lap/shoulder belted.”