There can be little doubt that for more than 10 years General Motors covered up a safety-related defect that killed or injured hundreds of innocent people. Not only did GM know about the defect as early as 2003, it actually received numerous notices of the tragic events the defective ignition switch was causing. For example, General Motors was put on notice of a fatal crash involving a new Chevrolet Cobalt rented from a rental-car company in 2006. This was more than seven years before GM began the biggest wave of motor vehicle recalls in U.S. history.
An investigator for Vanguard Car Rental USA contacted GM about the fatal rollover crash that happened in California. A driver in the Cobalt rented from Vanguard’s Alamo unit lost control of the car in September 2006. Traffic had been light, according to the police report, when the sedan drifted across lanes, got caught in a gravel median and rolled over. The driver’s seat belt was buckled and the air bag failed to deploy. Even though the driver was killed, and GM definitely knew about it, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was not notified by the automaker. The recalls, as we all know, didn’t start until this year – more than seven years later – which is totally inexcusable.
There was enough evidence provided to GM by the Vanguard claims adjuster to put the company on notice of a safety problem. It was stated in a letter to GM: “Due to the serious nature of this accident we feel that it is imperative that you open a claim and inspect this vehicle for possible defects.” But Vanguard wasn’t alone in its concern. GM customer-service call transcripts, warranty records, letters and police reports obtained by Bloomberg News reveal that Clayton-based Enterprise also was pressing GM about a potential Cobalt defect because air bags in the cars were failing in routine crashes. In 2007, Enterprise bought Vanguard’s Alamo and National brands. Avis, Budget and Hertz also had Cobalts in their fleets and those cars also were crashing.
GM has no explanation – other than the obvious cover-up – for why no recalls were issued prior to 2014. Files obtained by Bloomberg News are among scores of exchanges between GM and NHTSA over an eight-year period beginning in 2005 involving cars stalling and air bags not deploying in crashes. In the files GM submitted, there were 30 crashes involving 37 fatalities in the Cobalt and the Saturn Ion. The victims’ names were redacted. The number of deaths will be at least 300 according to reliable sources.
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