For more than 10 years, scores of General Motors engineers, inspectors and other employees engaged in a deadly cover-up over an easily fixable ignition-switch defect. An estimated 13 to 300 people lost their lives when their car suddenly shut off, disabling their power brakes and airbags.
GM discovered the problem in 2001 with its Saturn ION, according to documents the company belatedly sent to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Though the defect was evident in other models, GM did not notify the federal safety agency until 2006. The company then sent its dealers a service bulletin to look out for but not recall the cars.
GM finally declared a recall this February. It was just days before the new chief executive, Mary Barra, says she was told about the millions of cars containing the faulty switch.
I am a longtime observer of the auto giant. People ask me, “How could this happen, and for so long?” Welcome to GM’s multi-tiered corporate bureaucracy.
The structure is tailor-made to avoid responsibility, shifting blame to someone else up, down or sideways among the company’s many top executives, project directors and review committees that have long ossified this industrial goliath on so many fronts.