Eric Posner, "In Defense of GM"

In Defense of GM
Eric Posner
Slate.com
April 10, 2014

In the brouhaha over the defective ignition switch that prompted GM to recall 2.6 million cars over the last two months, members of Congress and pundits have judged, tried, and condemned the company’s engineers and executives. Michael Moore wants them to be executed. With the defect linked to several accidents, which caused 13 deaths, everyone thinks that GM has put profits over human lives. But this is a phony scandal. Though it’s too early to tell for sure, because key information has yet to come to light, GM might have acted reasonably under the circumstances. The premature denunciations are mere grandstanding.

As I said, some of the facts are still murky, but the story appears to go like this. About a decade ago, GM installed into several car models an ignition switch that turned out to be faulty. Heavy keys dangling on the keychain, or a knock from a knee, could turn the ignition key and shut down power while the car was in use. According to a document issued by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which held hearings on the GM recall, GM may have known of the problem as early as 2001 but believed that a design change fixed the problem. It revisited the issue in 2004 after receiving a complaint from a customer that the vehicle “can be keyed off with knee while driving.” In 2005 engineers concluded that possible fixes were too costly or inadequate, and later GM told dealers to tell customers to remove heavy items from key rings. Also in 2005, a fatal accident occurred that may have been caused by the ignition switch problem. In 2006 GM began installing modified ignition switches in 2007 models. Over the ensuing years, more fatal accidents occurred and GM conducted additional investigations. When exactly GM understood the magnitude of the danger posed by the faulty ignition switch is not yet clear.

Faculty: 
Eric Posner