By Keith Crain, Crain News Service
DETROIT (March 3, 2014) — General Motors Co. last week added more than 588,000 vehicles to a recall to fix ignition switches, bringing the number of vehicles recalled in the U.S. to 1.37 million.
Some of the vehicles were built a decade ago, and GM has told regulators it has documentation of a number of crashes and at least 13 fatalities. In affected vehicles, faulty ignition switches can suddenly shut off engines and disable safety systems such as airbags.
But this issue is not about a faulty switch. Car companies have been dealing with defective parts and recalls for decades. This does not even rank in the top 10 recalls.
Far more serious is whether GM executives knew about the defective switches and the crashes long ago and someone at GM tried to keep the whole issue quiet.
If that's the case, GM has some serious explaining to do. Are some current or former executives responsible for far more than just a defective part?
If, on the other hand, GM was simply trying to get the facts as quickly as possible, it would appear to be a tragic but ordinary recall.
GM is going to have to convince its dealers and customers that there was not a cover-up because right now everyone seems to be out for blood.
Often, the worst damage to an auto maker's reputation is not from the initial defect but from someone, somewhere trying to cover up what happened.
I cannot imagine any corporate penalty severe enough for anyone involved in a cover-up affecting the safety and lives of GM customers.
It is in GM's best interest to investigate immediately and thoroughly whether anyone was complicit in postponing this recall.
It can get complicated when you're dealing with parts that are more than a decade old, especially at a corporation that has been through bankruptcy. But that shouldn't change the basic issue.
GM has been on a successful path of recovery from its 2009 bankruptcy. But right now the company has a whole bunch of people in brand-new roles.
The sooner the history of this recall can be determined, the better off for everyone connected with GM.
This is as serious as it gets in the car business. Let's hope GM recognizes that and gets to the bottom of it as quickly as possible.
GM's customers, employees and dealers deserve no less.
This opinion column appeared on autonews.com, the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business. Keith Crain is editor-in-chief of Automotive News and chairman of Crain Communications Inc., TB's parent company. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.