General Motors chief executive Mary Barra has fired 15 people after an internal investigation released Thursday detailed a decadelong pattern of willful neglect by the company. Finally, someone is being held accountable for the 13 deaths and 54 accidents that GM acknowledges are a result of faulty ignition switches in its small cars that caused them to lose power and disabled airbags. But there are many more questions for GM. The Justice Department should not trust that GM has been completely transparent in its self examination.
A 325-page report recounts GM's repeated failure to disclose problems with its ignition switches. An engineer wrote about the "switch from hell" in a 2002 email before the rollout of the Saturn Ion. A former CEO test drove a Chevrolet Cobalt and "kneed off" the ignition in 2004. Lawyers began learning of driver deaths and worked to shield the company from liability. A junior lawyer was rebuffed upon raising the question of a recall in 2012.
General Motors finally issued a recall in February that grew to include 2.6 million small cars with ignition switch problems. It acknowledged the deaths and pledged to investigate itself. The company also issued dozens of unrelated recalls involving millions of cars and trucks with problems on parts ranging from seat belts to airbags. In May, the federal government fined GM $35 million for failing to act on its faulty ignitions switches in a time manner. GM will spend more than a billion dollars in recall-related repairs and lawsuit settlements.
Throughout the airing of its problems, GM has behaved like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Executives appear contrite, issue massive recalls and pledge to revamp safety practices. But they also continue to deceive. GM, for example, publicly acknowledged 13 deaths as a result of ignition switch accidents. But the company did not tell families that their loved ones were included in that count. That is hardly the behavior of a company committed to transparency and accountability.
Now that Barra has cleaned house, she should focus on overhauling a culture that protects the company at all costs. Employees, regardless of their rank or assignment, should feel comfortable sharing their concerns with their superiors and following up when nothing is done. .
The internal investigation released last week should not represent the end of scrutiny for GM. Opportunities remain to fully understand what happened, hold the company accountable and create a more vigorous regulatory framework to respond to such willful negligence before so many are killed.