(Detroit, MI) – When it comes to dealing with known design flaws, General Motors (GM) has apparently adopted the method used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). And, just like people associated with NASA, Americans have paid for it with their lives.
On March 17, GM announced a recall of 1.5 million vehicles due to potential airbag problems. This comes on top of last month’s recall of 1.6 million vehicles due to faulty ignition switches – a problem GM knew about as early as 2001.
For a company as old and as large as GM – a company that sold over 9 million vehicles in 2013 – a recall of 3.1 million vehicles might seem manageable. But this isn’t your father’s GM. This is a company that needed taxpayer-funded bailouts in 2008 and 2009 – to the tune of $50.1 billion – to keep from going out of business.
The bailout ultimately cost taxpayers $11 billion because only $39 billion was paid back to the Federal government.
GM’s voice for the recall issues has been Executive Officer Mary Barra, who only started her job on January 15. She will earn as little as $4.4 million this year – and as much as $14 million – for her services.
“Yes, we know taxpayers took a big hit by bailing us out,” said a GM spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity. “And that’s why we don’t think Ms. Barra’s salary is over-the-top. Actually, it’s just chump-change in the grand scheme of things.”
Barra has issued several apologies for the two major-league recalls – apologies that sound very NASA-esque.
She told her employees that “something went wrong with our process in this instance, and terrible things happened.” That excuse sounded painfully similar to NASA’s pointing out “a major malfunction” as space shuttle Challenger disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean on January 28, 1986, killing seven astronauts.
Barra also told reporters that GM would be “conducting an intense review of our internal processes and will have more developments to announce as we move forward.” This, too, could be a line from NASA. One of the lessons from Challenger was supposed to be taking the communications and opinions of non-managers into account. These lessons were apparently ignored 17 years later. A suitcase-sized piece of foam punched a hole into the wing of space shuttle Columbia; the orbiter disintegrated on re-entry on February 1, 2003, killing seven astronauts.
“The ignition switch issue will prove to be very costly,” said an auto industry spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity. “GM knew about this flaw and they did nothing for 13 years. And 12 people died, probably unnecessarily. It will be a real test of Barra’s leadership to keep the GM brand from being damaged beyond repair.”
“We expect some fallout, sure,” said a GM spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We realize the ignition switch was a major malfunction, and we realize it may take years to win back support and love from the very people we tried to kill. But, on the plus side, if we slide towards bankruptcy, we’ll just ask for another bailout!”