General Motors today released the results of its internal probe for the mishandling of a recall involving faulty ignition switches in millions of small cars. In the 315-page report, lead investigator Anton Valukas highlighted various cultural problems within the company including, among other things, the ‘GM nod’ a reference to meetings during which employees would ‘nod’ in agreement that action should be taken and then proceed to do nothing.
The Wall Street Journal provides a quick rundown of some of the more glaring findings in the report.
The most obvious problem revealed in the report is the dysfunctional culture at the company. This mostly involved the “GM salute” or “nod”, in which employees would look the other way or place the blame on others.
“One witness described the GM phenomenon of avoiding responsibility as the ‘GM salute,’ a crossing of the arms and pointing outward towards others, indicating that the responsibility belongs to someone else, not me. It is this same cabining of responsibility, the sense that someone else is responsible, that permeated the Cobalt investigation for years,” the report said.
Another issue was the GM engineers at the time didn’t realize that with the ignition switch in the ‘off’ or ‘accessory’ positions, the airbags wont deploy. The report says “engineers failed to recognize the stalls as safety issue and resolve the problem quickly.”
“They completely failed to understand that the movement of the switch out of the Run position meant the driver and passengers would no longer have the protection of the airbags,” the report said. “As a result, GM personnel viewed the switch problem as a ‘customer convenience’ issue—something annoying but not particularly problematic—as opposed to the safety defect it was.”
GM could have avoided the safety defect all together if one engineer in 2002 didn’t greenlight a switch for use that was way below GM’s typical specifications. Engineers knew about problems with the switch during development of the Saturn Ion in 2002, but they did not think it would ever cause a problem in real-world scenarios.
Upper management at the company was also unaware of the defect at the time, the report found.
“While the issue of the ignition switch passed through numerous hands at GM, from engineers to investigators to lawyers, nobody raised the problem to the highest levels of the company,” the report said. “As a result, those in the best position to demand quick answers did not know questions needed to be asked.”
In conclusion, the report describes a “lack of urgency” in the culture at GM. Even though the problem was known about for quite some time and discussed more than once in 2011, “the investigation would remain open and unresolved for two-and-a-half years. Neither the lawyers, nor engineers elevated the issue to the top levels of management,” the report said.
Going forward, Valukas urged GM to view the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as an ally and someone to work with to ensure that its vehicles are as safe as they can be. He also urged CEO Mary Barra to promote a “cultural emphasis on safety,” eliminate overlapping departments and to move faster in the future when making decisions about recalls.