I had to visit my General Motors dealer the other day so they could correct a problem that has given the automotive giant a huge and very expensive black eye. 800,000 GM cars were recalled because of a faulty ignition switch. More than a dozen people were killed in crashes that were directly linked to the problem. Turns out company executives and engineers had known about it for a decade, but the chickens did not come home to roost until Mary Barra had taken over as CEO, the first woman to sit in that chair in Michigan.
My visit to the dealer showed me that fixing recalls is now a huge portion of the activity in the service department, and it’s costing GM hundreds of millions of dollars. If you want to see an excellent dramatization of the corporate mentality that leads automakers down such a road, track down a terrific 1991 movie called Class Action. It starred Gene Hackman in one of his best roles, and I’ll say no more.
As far as I know, it did not result in any deaths, but the tailpipe scandal at Volkswagen is unbelievable in terms of the damage that’s been done to the notion of public trust. The German carmaker recently moved into the number one position in worldwide sales. But in less than a week, their share value fell by billions of dollars when it was revealed that they deliberately programmed the engines on more than a million diesel cars to spit out carbon emissions that were quite frankly illegal. They did it to improve mileage and efficiency, but further investigation suggests that it didn’t really achieve either of those goals.
Volkswagen dealers are now converting some of the cars from diesel to gasoline, for free. It’s called desperate damage control, but it’s not clear if VW will ever completely recover.
A wise man once said “all that’s required for evil to succeed, is for good men to do nothing”.
I’m Roger Currie