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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Duped or Complicit? -- The bad idea of bailing out General Motors turns into a scandal -- By Jim Geraghty, National Review

The American government should not own a car company.

That was a wise stance back in 2008, before Barack Obama was elected president; it was a wise stance from 2009 through 2013, when the U.S. government owned a large but gradually shrinking portion of General Motors stock; and it is a wise stance today. Sadly, those who liked the era of “Government Motors” are determined to avoid any serious examination of that policy — perhaps because President Obama and his fans have persuaded themselves that the auto-industry bailout was one of the biggest successes of his presidency.

That argument was metaphorically kicked in the crotch this month when the public learned that GM continued to make cars with a life-threatening defect during the era of government ownership. Joe Biden liked to boast, “Osama bin Laden is dead and GM is alive!” Indeed he is dead, and so are 13 people who were involved in car accidents linked to a defective ignition switch.

 Automakers recall cars with some regularity, but this episode is different in scale, seriousness, and skullduggery. In mid-February, GM announced the recall of almost 800,000 Chevrolet Cobalts and Pontiac G5s, because of a flaw in the ignition switch. GM explained that a heavy key ring or key chain can pull the key into the Off position if the car hits a bump. This would turn the engine off, creating high risk of an accident; even worse, the car’s power steering, power-assisted brakes, and airbags won’t function with the engine off.

Every few days, GM expanded the recall to more models and model years; the recall now includes all 2005–2010 Chevrolet Cobalts, 2005–2010 Pontiac G5s, 2003–2007 Saturn Ions, 2006–2011 Chevrolet HHRs, 2005–2006 Pontiac Pursuits (manufactured in Canada), 2006–2010 Pontiac Solstices, and 2007–2010 Saturn Skys. GM’s total recalls now exceed 6 million vehicles.

But most disturbing is that at least some GM engineers knew about the problem for years. In 2002, the automaker approved the design for the new ignition switch from manufacturer Delphi even though the supplier told them that initial tests showed the switch didn’t meet GM’s specifications. The company investigated the switches, and found them faulty, for at least a decade. Perhaps the most jaw-dropping detail is that the cost of replacing each switch was 57 cents.

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