Mary Barra made a brave and ethical decision, and I admire her for it. One of her first decisions after becoming CEO of General Motors in January 2014 was to recall 1.6 million autos sold with defective ignition switches before GMs 2009 bankruptcy, which had released it from legal liability for such errors. These switches were installed in certain Saturn, Chevrolet and Pontiac cars during the 2001-2007 model period. The first-quarter recall was later expanded to 2.4 and then to 6.3 million cars and trucks (some for unrelated defects) through the 2011 model year.
This was no ordinary recall. Thirteen deaths had been linked to accidents which had resulted from an unexpected shutdown of engine, air bags, power brakes and power steering. An internal team had identified the defective Delphi part as far back as 2004, but top GM executives had been kept insulated and uniformed. To keep costs low, no corrective action was taken. Instead, dealers were asked to tell owners to eliminate heavy key chains, since the added weight could cause the ignition switch to fail. The National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration, which was aware of the accidents, now says that it had not been given sufficient information, as required by law, or it would have investigated earlier.