General Motors' chief executive, Mary Barra, will have to face a congressional inquiry into how the Detroit carmaker failed to recall models in which the air bags would not properly deploy in an accident.
Barra has announced that, based on the findings of the GM-commissioned reports into the scandal around the recall (or lack thereof) of the Cobalt model, 15 executives and engineers have been fired for inappropriate conduct and five others are being disciplined.
The reports, by the former US attorney Anton R Valukas, are sobering reading. According to Valukas, "those individuals tasked with fixing the problem – sophisticated engineers with a responsibility to provide customers with safe and reliable automobiles – did not understand one of the most fundamental consequences of the switch failing and the car stalling: the air bags would not deploy."
The problem surrounds faulty ignition switches fitted to Chevrolet Cobalts, and other GM cars based on the design, which could fail and disable the air bags without warning the drivers. So far 13 deaths are alleged to be connected to the problem, and GM is spending more than $1 billion recalling 13 million cars.
“Overall the report found that, from start to finish, the Cobalt saga was riddled with failures which led to tragic results for many,” Barra said. She went on to sympathise with the victims and said the report was “extremely thorough, brutally tough and deeply troubling.”
While Valukas found no specific wrongdoing by any GM employee, nor any overt calculation of cost versus safety, he found a corporate structure mired in “group after group and committee after committee”.
Valukas accuses GM of not taking responsibility, at a senior level, for the issue. “It was an example of what one top executive described as ‘the GM nod’, when everyone nods in agreement to a proposed plan of action, but then leaves the room and does nothing.”
Barra and her senior team will now have to face questions from congressmen and senators over GM’s handling of the case, which dates back almost a decade.