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Lordstown workers try to move ahead amid GM uproar



Published: Wed, April 2, 2014 @ 12:01 a.m.

photo

General Motors CEO Mary Barra testifies Tuesday on Capitol Hill in Washington before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation. The panel is looking for answers from Barra about safety defects and the mishandled recall of 2.6 million small cars.

RELATED: March sees an increase in Chevy Cruze sales

Staff/wire report

A union official representing workers at the General Motors plant in Lordstown said the workers are trying to move past a massive ignition-switch recall that again took center stage Tuesday, as GM’s CEO testified at a contentious congressional hearing.

The Trumbull County plant produced the Chevrolet Cobalts that were at the center of a 2.6 million-car recall for a faulty ignition switch that could switch out of the run position, disabling power steering, power brakes and air bags.

Workers also learned over the weekend that GM had recalled 172,000 Chevrolet Cruze vehicles after mysteriously ordering dealers on Friday to halt the sale of all Cruzes from the 2013 and 2014 model years equipped with a 1.4-liter turbo engine.

The company later announced that those cars could have a defective axle part.

Criticism of the Cobalt at the hearing was not lost on the plant workers that worked to produce both cars.

“It’s a little discouraging,” said Robert Morales, president of United Auto Workers Local 1714, adding that the focus at the plant remained fixed on producing quality cars.

“We’re still leaning toward a positive note because it’s something that’s going to be addressed. It’s something that’s going to be fixed,” Morales added.

Cruze production will continue as planned, with two Saturdays of production tentatively added for April 12 and 26, he said.

The New York Times on Monday published a story saying Cobalts were plagued by a variety of mechanical and safety

issues that made the cars “lemons from the start.”

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, GM CEO Mary Barra acknowledged under often testy questioning the company took too long to act. She promised changes at GM that would prevent such a lapse from happening again.

“If there’s a safety issue, we’re going to make the right change and accept that,” said Barra, who became CEO in January and almost immediately found herself thrust into one of the biggest product safety crises Detroit has ever seen.

But as relatives of the crash victims looked on intently, she admitted that she didn’t know why it took years for the dangerous defect to be announced. And she deflected many questions about what went wrong, saying an internal investigation is under way.

When Barra tried to draw a distinction between parts that didn’t meet specifications and those that were defective and dangerous, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, shot back: “What you just answered is gobbledygook.”

She also announced that GM has hired Kenneth Feinberg — who handled the fund for the victims of 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombing and the BP oil spill — to explore ways to compensate victims of accidents in the GM cars. Barra stopped short of saying GM would establish such a fund.

Some of the questioners appeared surprised that Barra hadn’t reviewed the tens of thousands of pages of documents that GM had submitted to the committee, and that she was unaware of some decision-making processes at the company.

GM has said that in 2005 company engineers proposed solutions to the switch problem, but the automaker concluded that none represented “an acceptable business case.”

“Documents provided by GM show that this unacceptable cost increase was only 57 cents,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.

Under questioning, Barra said GM’s decision not to make the fix because of cost considerations was disturbing and unacceptable, and she assured members of Congress that kind of thinking represents the old General Motors, and “that is not how GM does business” today.

“I think we in the past had more of a cost culture,” Barra said, adding that it is moving toward a more customer-focused culture.

She testified the inexpensive fix to the switch, if undertaken in 2007, would have cost the automaker about $100 million, compared with “substantially” more now.

Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, read from an email exchange between GM employees and those at Delphi, which made the switch. One said the Cobalt is “blowing up in their face in regards to the car turning off.”

Murphy asked why, if the problem was so big, GM didn’t replace all of them in cars already on the road.

“Clearly there were a lot of things happening” at that time, Barra said.

In his prepared remarks, David Friedman, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, pointed the finger at GM, saying the automaker had information last decade that could have led to a recall, but shared it only last month.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said House Energy and Commerce Committee staff members found 133 warranty claims filed with GM over 10 years detailing customer complaints of sudden engine stalling when they drove over a bump or brushed keys with their knees.

The claims were filed between June 2003 and June 2012.

Waxman said because GM didn’t undertake a simple fix when it learned of the problem, “at least a dozen people have died in defective GM vehicles.”

Some current GM car owners and relatives of those who died in crashes were also in Washington seeking answers. The group attended the hearing after having a news conference demanding action against GM and stiffer legislation.

Laura Christian, birth mother of Amber Marie Rose, a teenager who died in a 2005 Maryland crash involving a Chevrolet Cobalt, said about 30 family members met with Barra and two GM attorneys Monday night. She said they got little reaction.

“A lot of, ‘I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,’” Christian said.

Renee Trautwein, whose daughter Sarah Trautwein died while driving a 2005 Cobalt in June 2009 in South Carolina, said she is sickened by revelations that GM had multiple warranty claims about the problem yet did nothing.

Owners of the recalled cars can ask dealers for a loaner vehicle while waiting for the replacement part. Barra said GM has provided more than 13,000 loaners.


Comments

1Ianacek(891 comments)posted 4 months ago

There were certainly " a lot of things happening at the time" . For at least 5 years unions and management were absorbed with protecting their massive salaries and pensions . There was nothing left on the table for anything else - not even 57 cents .

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2handymandave(429 comments)posted 4 months ago

THOSE CARS LOOK GREAT. YOU JUST CAN'T DRIVE THEM. WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? THINK OF THE MONEY YOU'LL SAVE BY NOT HAVING TO PAY FOR GAS.

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3handymandave(429 comments)posted 4 months ago

"HAVE YOU DRIVEN A FORD LATELY"?

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4bgreene(134 comments)posted 4 months ago

Management and union leadership were focused on making certain that profits were MAXIMIZED AT ANY COST........including the choice to ignore the safety and the sacrifice well-being of all the customers who spent hard-earned dollars to purchase defective and sub-standard vehicles. Wonder how many executives and engineers purchased those same
products for their family members to drive ?

GM falters in 2008 and the government (taxpayers) bails out their sorry a$$e$ but only after GM restructures thru bankruptcy proceedings that essentially gives them immunity from a great portion of the responsibility as the slate has been wiped clean.

Then, recently, things have turned around, GM shows a modest profit, and EVERYONE GETS A BIG BONUS CHECK !

So screw the customer, sorry about any injuries or deaths in your families, and business as usual for GM....hoping nobody finds out about any other skeletons we have kept under wraps.

SOMEONE needs some prison time for this mess but we all know that NO ONE will go to jail. GM is too big to fail and too connected to jail.

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5bgreene(134 comments)posted 4 months ago

I looked closely at the picture that accompanied this article. These people are truly grief stricken and heartbroken at their loss of a loved one.

From their appearances I am guessing that they do not have much in the way of financial means but are good and decent folk that could only afford to purchase a modestly-priced vehicle. Would also bet that they are patriotic citizens and felt that by purchasing a GM product that they were doing right by America.

They didn't have much money to begin with, probably stretched to buy the vehicles, and ultimately lost the only possession that really mattered...a loved one.

CORPORATE GREED and DISHONESTY at its finest. Management chose to ignore the issue and now everyone at GM is sorry.....sorry that they got caught !

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6walter_sobchak(1857 comments)posted 4 months ago

My son has an "07 Cobalt and the first time I drove it, my knees kept hitting his keychain which, to me, was annoying. It never occurred to me that it could actually turn the car off. Companies make these kind of decisions on risk daily but it doesn't make it right nor does it absolve the company from liability. Unless the company doesn't exist anymore, like "old GM".

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7rickking123(286 comments)posted 4 months ago

The whole GM debacle was a manufactured crisis fed by the media giving daily updates on how much money GM had on hand. Every day you heard stories of how GM was going to fail if something wasn't done.

Then the government stepped in and held a sham expedited bankruptcy proceeding absolving GM and its union from the consequences of their combined business practices.

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8billdog1(941 comments)posted 4 months ago

This is a tragedy but a vehicle is a machine. If GM knew their machine had a malfunction they should have corrected it. I struggle to see how a car shutting off could cause a death short of some freak circumstance.

Back my original statement. A vehicle is a machine, as American's we have forgotten that, and forgot that machines are fallible. Suddenly Honda, Toyota, GM and I heard rummers of some others are in line for faulty equipment. I finally got my wife to understand that the car is like her washer, dryer, and garage door opener. It can and will malfunction at any given time. Expect it.

You need to know to shut it if the accelerator sticks. To be prepared for a tire going down (should we sue the tire manufacture because a tire goes flat?,) an animal, child or moron running out in front you, etc... Brakes can fail from a line breaking due to weather, wear, or week spot in the line, pads separating, etc... When those that work in a factory forget they are operating a machine that can fail, people get hurt. A car is no different.

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9GTX66(341 comments)posted 4 months ago

GM knew about this for over 10 years. They were told by Delphi that the switch did not meet their requirements but GM used it anyway. I hope this cost them plenty, people lost their lives.By a Ford at least they did not need a Government welfare check.

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10papa1(641 comments)posted 4 months ago

there is one way and only one way that gm can save their reputation and their business and it's not by cutting big checks, although that has to happen. no, the only way they can save gm is, someone has to go to jail. someone or more than one have to be held ultimately responsible for this horrible catastrophe and do jail time. it's the only thing that will appease the American people and the families of the victims. they know who's responsible. don't have congress drill a three month ceo. go back and find the real culprit. find who did this and lock them up!! from sports to business, to politics, and everything in between, this is truly the era of the cheater, the liar, and the greedy. how sad have things become.

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11walter_sobchak(1857 comments)posted 4 months ago

billdog1,
Since steering and braking rely on power assistance from engine rotation via vacuum or pumps, when the engine stops, guess what happens? While a person with strong arms can steer the car then, weaker people like small ladies (sorry for stereotyping) or the elderly will struggle. If you are driving in an area with sharp bends or in high speed, congested freeway driving, it could be difficult to keep the car on the road or avoid a crash. Personally, I was against the govt bailout of GM but this latest fiasco makes them even easier to dislike. I'm done with GM and bought a Ford Fusion last fall.

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12billdog1(941 comments)posted 4 months ago

Yes lets go back and sue Ford for the Expedition rollovers, Firestone for tire separation, Ford for the Pinto gas tank explosions, Toyota for faulty motors during the 80's, Kia, for door panel separation during the late 90's. Nissan for engine head bolt separation during the mid 2000's. All machines are fallible. Know it, be aware of it and know that all machines can and will fail. Suing and jail time will only create more job loss, and a weaker economy. During WWI and II Jeep's were breaking down all over Europe. Nobody got sued or found their panties all bunched up. No body attacked the company. Nobody found a need to hate or follow the political ramblings of morons.

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13Search4Answers(720 comments)posted 4 months ago

Recalls are a fact of life in the auto industry. I wouldn't doubt the impending and eventual bankruptcy played a huge role in ignoring the issue for so long.

Similar to the Toyota recalls, get ready for all of the automakers to start recalling their cars since GM took the big PR hit and their issues won't seem as bad.

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14rickking123(286 comments)posted 4 months ago

There's a huge difference between parts breaking down on their own and knowingly and deliberately installing parts that are already defective before they are installed.

When you lose power in a vehicle because the ignition shut off you may have only a few seconds to assess the situation and react accordingly. I'd be willing to bet that a majority of drivers lack that requisite skill.

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15billdog1(941 comments)posted 4 months ago

Yes, rikking, your right, few drivers possess the skills to make a decision outside the structured circumstances they encounter daily. That is exactly the reason I think a minimum of an 80 IQ should be a prerequisite for a drivers license. And I'm being generous. Watching people drive daily I see people that should of never been given a drivers license. They have absolutely no ability in decision making. Much is going on cognitively when driving. Hand eye coordination, foot eye coordination, watching multiple areas of the road, instrument panels and other drivers. Again, a vehicle is a machine and should be treated as such. Many referred to the first automobiles as machines. There was a reason for that. Those people seen them for what they are, and knew the potential for injury.

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16rickking123(286 comments)posted 4 months ago

It also doesn't help when you give the defective ignition switch and its replacement the same part number so that you no longer can tell the difference between the two. That reeks of trying to cover the problem up.

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17YtownParent(276 comments)posted 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Machines are generally warranted to work under normal circumstance by their manufacturers billdog. The GM automobiles in question were specifically warranted, through actual warranties and what GM implied in all it's marketing.

GM did nothing that other company hasn't done since the first bronze age tool was cast. They made their choices based on what they thought was “an acceptable business case.” They believed that ignoring the issue would cost them less then fixing it. It turns out they were wrong and they will bear the cost of the recall, the cost of adjusting their manufacturing process, the cost of settling any liability lawsuits against them, and the cost of lost consumer faith.

That is the way the free market works. It maybe painful for GM, but other companies will gain where they lose. If the free market it is allowed to exert the full brunt of it's force in this case, GM will learn from it's mistakes and become a better stronger company in the long run. But if we slide back into our old habits of protecting companies from from what the market has in store for them, GM will just do more of the same and never recover, never pull itself up from its bootstraps and will become a lifetime corporate welfare recipient.

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18handymandave(429 comments)posted 3 months, 4 weeks ago

The best part of the situation is GM management was smart enough to sacrifice a woman ( Barra ) to the wolves of congress. When she's done getting her a## kicked, they'll demote her or fire her.

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19stateline(69 comments)posted 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Surprise Surprise, Another government owned business wasting tax payer dollars, and make huge careless mistakes.

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