Lessons in Quality Control: The GM Ignition Switch

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GM-Ignition-Switch.jpgGeneral Motors (GM), the US automobile giant, is certainly no stranger to bad publicity and scandal. Yet the latest in a row of controversies will have even GM reeling - a scandal rising from the defective ignition switches in GM cars that led to at least 13 deaths.

The Tragic Tale

In the first quarter of 2014, GM decided to recall 2.6 million of the small cars it had manufactured, from models that were related to an estimated 32 crashes and 13 casualties since 2005. The faulty ignition switches in models such as the Saturn Ions and the Chevrolet Cobalts would accidentally cause the car engines and the air bags to switch off while driving.

All the Controversy

The biggest factor contributing to the controversy, aside from the deaths of course is the emergence of the fact that GM was aware, years earlier, of the existence of the defective switches. However, the company was slow and possibly reluctant about fixing the problem, given the probable costs involved in the process.

The case has been particularly difficult for GM's CEO Mary Barra, as it coincided with her taking charge of the company on January 14, 2014. Under intense public scrutiny ever since, she has apologized for actions taken before her tenure began, and has vowed to enhance the company's focus on quality and customer safety.

The Case As It Stands

All the apologies and the promises, however, have not managed to quell the public outrage and backlash. GM is currently facing a federal criminal probe and a congressional investigation, with Barra set to appear before a Senate panel along with GM's general counsel, the person who oversaw GM's internal investigation, the president and CEO of Delphi, and an outside victim compensation adviser.

Amid reports that a few members of the company knew about the defects as long as a decade ago, that they chose to keep the details from GM's general counsel Michael Millikin, and the resultant uproar in public, GM has chosen to recall as many as 28 million vehicles in 2014, for the ignition switch problems and for other unrelated problems.

The Lessons on Offer

The third largest automaker in the world had only just recovered from its financial woes between 2009 and 2013, and it had to be helped out by US government too. Suffice it to say, they could have done without exactly such a scandal, and if they are to avoid future troubles of similar or other sorts, they should take a step back, clean up house, and endeavor not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

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