General Motors

GM had an event-filled year. The company announced more shifts at assembly plants, like at this one - the Wentzville Assembly plant in Missouri. It also dealt with the fallout from the ignition switch recall.
GM

For the world's automakers 2014 was full of good news and some very, very bad news.

We take a look back at the year with Michele Krebs, director of Automotive Relations with the Auto Trader Group, and Tracy Samilton, Michigan Radio's auto reporter.

Listen to our conversation with them below.

Cadillac logo and grille
Flickr user Eric E Johnson / Flickr

Cadillac is moving its headquarters, and over 100 employees, to New York City. Detroit News Business Columnist Daniel Howes tells us the move shows that Cadillac is looking to gain more customers of money and influence on the East coast.

Cadillac’s vehicles will still be developed and engineered here in the Midwest.

Listen to our conversation with Howes below.


Andrea_44 / Flickr

Emails just released in a court case reveal General Motors ordered a half-million replacement ignition switches, nearly two months before reporting the defective switch problem to the government. The defect has been identified as a factor in 32 deaths.

Jeff Bennett broke this story for the Wall Street Journal.


Today on Stateside:

  •         Emails from an order for 500,000 ignition switches by General Motors from December 18th have been released. Jeff Bennett broke the story for the Wall Street Journal and talks to us about the importance of these emails in a pending legal case.
  •           In Ann Arbor, kids caught spray-painting serve their community service time by cleaning up graffiti under the Juvenile Graffiti Removal Project. Listen to Sgt. Thomas Hickey of the Ann Arbor Police Department discuss his creative idea.
  •          Called “the greatest American player of all time” by Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock, Chris Chelios has certainly left his mark on the city of Detroit and the Red Wings franchise. Listen to him discuss his new memoir, Made in America.
  •          While high-profile chemical spills and bacterial blooms have raised concerns about the safety of drinking water in the United States, it’s not the only pollutant reaching the water supply. Listen to chemist Andrea Sella report for the BBC on how the medicines we take are ending up in our environment.
  •          Rebecca Klaper, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences has been studying the presence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) within the Great Lakes. Listen to Dr. Klaper discuss the presence of PPCPs in the Great Lakes.
  •           East Jordan Iron Works has a 131-year history in the state of Michigan. You can’t walk across a street in Michigan without stepping on a manhole cover branded with their name. Listen to VP Thomas Teske discuss the history of the company.
  •          In the fight against blight in Flint, Gordon Young had a goal of raising $10,000 to tear down a single decaying home on Parkbelt Drive in Flint. After contributions from over 150 donors, Young has exceeded his goal by more than $1,000.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Today’s announcement that General Motors plans to spend $300 million in Michigan is good news not only for GM employees, but also for auto parts suppliers.

GM had previously announced the automaker's plans to invest $240 million in its Warren transmission plant. The plant will make the electric drive unit for the next-generation Chevy Volt. 

Wikimedia

General Motors made nearly $1.5 billion dollars in the third quarter. That was better than many analysts expected. 

General Motors already put most of the costs of its many recalls on the books in the first and second quarters.  So the third quarter looks much healthier by comparison. 

Strong profits in North America boosted the automaker's performance, driven by increases in truck and large SUV sales. 

VW edging closer to its desired no. 1 spot.
user PMillera4 / Flickr

They're rounding the 7.5 furlong mark and the standings are:

  1. Toyota
  2. Volkswagen
  3. General Motors

The Associated Press breaks it down for us:

Volkswagen edged out General Motors for second place in the global auto sales race during the first three quarters of the year, but Toyota was expected to keep its lead to stay in first place.

GM said Wednesday that is sold 7.37 million cars and trucks worldwide from January through September. But VW said it sold 7.4 million to nudge GM out of second place.

Toyota won't release its numbers for the first three quarters until late October. But it was in first place in the first half with sales of almost 5.1 million, and it expects the full-year figure to be 10.1 million.

Toyota finished first last year with a record 9.98 million sales. General Motors Co. finished second and VW third.

Water faucet.
jordanmrcai / Creative Commons

Emily Fox and Jack Lessenberry sat down to discuss what's going on this week in Michigan politics. They covered the high price of water in Flint and Detroit, GM’s decision to move its Cadillac headquarters to New York, and the debates for Michigan governor and the U.S. Senate race.


DETROIT (AP) - General Motors is recalling 221,558 Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Impala sedans because the brake pads can stay partially engaged even when they're not needed, increasing the risk of a fire.

The recall involves Cadillacs from the 2013-2015 model years and Impalas from the 2014 and 2015 model years. There are 205,309 vehicles affected in the U.S.; the rest of the vehicles are in Canada and elsewhere.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

 

When General Motors appointed Kenneth Feinberg as its so-called "compensation czar," it was clear the automaker hoped to have Feinberg determine damages to victims of the ignition-switch debacle, pay, and move on.

But as Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes writes today, things are not working out that way:

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

General Motors is being accused of not caring about the working conditions in its plants in Columbia and India.

About two dozen protesters plan to hound GM CEO Mary Barra at events tied to this week’s auto technology conference in Detroit.

Paige Shell-Spurling is organizing the protests.  She says GM is ignoring problems with unsafe factories that have left dozens of workers seriously injured.

General Motors

Today brought the fourth appearance for General Motors and CEO Mary Barra before angry members of Congress.

This time a Senate subcommittee took a deeper dive into the ignition switch recalls and didn't like what it saw in GM's legal department.

Michigan Radio's auto reporter Tracy Samilton followed the event.

According to Samilton, GM's chief counsel Michael Millikin was in the "uncomfortable Senate spotlight" today.

When senators asked why Millikin still kept his job, Barra said she "respectfully" disagreed with them, and she defended Millikin as a man of "incredibly high integrity."

She said Millikin "had a system in place." Unfortunately, in this instance "it wasn't brought to his attention."

An image from the consumer alert issued for the GM ignition switch recall.
NHTSA

DETROIT - General Motors says it has replaced faulty ignition switches on just under 20 percent of 2.6 million small cars that are being recalled.

The company has repaired just over 491,000 cars that are covered by the recall announced in February.

Switch maker Delphi Automotive says it has produced over 1 million parts and expects to have made 2 million by the end of August. GM says it expects all parts to be made by late October.

Delphi CEO Rodney O'Neal tells lawmakers his company has added three lines to speed up production.

Some car owners have complained it's taking too long for GM to finish repairs.

The switches can slip into the accessory position and unexpectedly shut off engines. That has caused crashes that killed at least 13 people.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Dozens of people are suing General Motors over its ignition switch problem.

Texas attorney Bob Hilliard represents about 70 families suing GM in a variety of state and federal courts.

He says his clients were “stunned” to hear GM CEO Mary Barra admit the problem was a result of "incompetence and neglect."

“I don’t think that GM can come into a court of law anymore and argue it wasn’t their fault,” says Hilliard.  He says the only thing GM can argue now is “what is the value of the loss.”

GM executives answer questions during this morning's press conference.
GM / YouTube

Update 3:30 p.m.

Texas attorney Bob Hilliard represents about 70 families suing GM in a variety of state and federal courts.  

He says his clients were “stunned” to hear GM CEO Mary Barra admit the problem was a result of "incompetence and neglect."

“I don’t think that GM can come into a court of law anymore and argue it wasn’t their fault,” says Hilliard. He says the only thing GM can argue now is “what is the value of the loss.”

But Hilliard says he does worry GM will claim it's not liable for problems predating its bankruptcy. He cites a case involving a Pennsylvania man who was paralyzed from the chest down in an accident.   

“In court they say GM did not design this vehicle. GM did not manufacture this vehicle. GM did not sell this vehicle. Even though this vehicle was a 2006 GM Cobalt,” says Hilliard.

Hilliard says he's "skeptical" about the victims’ compensation fund GM is offering to establish.

Update 10:34 a.m.

The much-anticipated report that looked into what went wrong at General Motors was given to federal regulators and Congress this morning.

GM executives held a press conference this morning about what the report found and how GM plans to respond.

This is a turning point in the ignition switch recall saga for GM.

CEO Mary Barra refused to answer detailed questions from the press and from Congress until Anton Valukis released the findings of his investigation.

The New York Times' Bill Vlasic writes that GM execs hope this report will relieve some pressure on the company:

Legal experts say that G.M. has taken a calculated risk that Mr. Valukas’s findings and recommendations will sufficiently answer the myriad questions hanging over the company.

“The downside is that members of Congress, the press and the public may think that the report lacks credibility if it is in an in-house investigation,” said Carl W. Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond.

But Professor Tobias said that Mr. Valukas, a former United States attorney, was a good choice for the delicate task of investigating G.M. “His reputation is on the line with this report, so he is not likely to sacrifice that for G.M.,” he said.

But this is just another step in the grand mea culpa for GM.

Vlasic reports the company faces more Congressional hearings, more investigations from the U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, and it will need to compensate the families of the victims of the ignition switch problems:

... the company is awaiting recommendations from the lawyer Kenneth R. Feinberg on how it will compensate victims of switch-related crashes and family members of people who died as a result of the defect. G.M. faces hundreds of private claims and lawsuits.

Mr. Feinberg, who oversaw compensation claims for victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Boston Marathon bombing, has said he would make his recommendations to G.M. later this month.

To see how this crisis unfolded for GM, check out this timeline from NPR's Tanya Basu.

9:48 a.m.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra says 15 employees have been fired over the company's recent ignition switch recalls.

Barra made the announcement this morning as she released an internal investigation by attorney Anton Valukis into the recall of 2.6 million older small cars for defective ignition switches.

Barra says the internal investigation into its recent ignition switch recall is "brutally tough and deeply troubling."

“What Valukis found in this situation was a pattern of incompetence and neglect,” Barra said. “Repeatedly, individuals failed to disclose critical pieces of information that could have fundamentally changed the lives of those impacted by the faulty ignition switch.”

It took GM more than a decade to report the switch failures, which it blames for 13 deaths.

In a town hall meeting at GM's suburban Detroit technical center, Barra says attorney Anton Valukas interviewed 230 employees and reviewed 41 million documents to produce the report, which makes recommendations to avoid future safety problems.

GM Renaissance Center in Detroit.
John F. Martin / Creative Commons

At 8 a.m. on June 1, 2009, General Motors filed for Chapter 11 reorganization. That filing in the bankruptcy court in Manhattan was the start of a painful and historic journey for General Motors. 

Five years later, after a massive government equity investment, General Motors is doing well, although it has been rocked recently by the ignition switch recall controversy, and a blizzard of other recalls. 

Let's take stock of what GM has done in the last five years, and see if the prevention of job and income losses was worth the cost to taxpayers. 

Sonari Glinton is NPR's business reporter, and he joined us on Stateside. 

*Listen to the full interview above. 

user: Vanillase / Wikimedia Commons

A recent Oxford University report estimates that robots could replace nearly half of the current U.S. workforce.

The report found that office administrators, sales personnel, and those in the service industry are among those at risk of losing their jobs to robots.

Robots have become common in many workplaces since General Motors installed the first robot at a plant in New Jersey in 1961 ("Unimate," as it was called, could weld and move parts that weighed up to 500 pounds).

So can humans keep up, or at least keep ahead of the technology that is changing the workforce?

These are especially important questions here in Michigan, with its historic ties to the auto industry that makes up about 40% of the global supply of industrial robots. 

Stephen Spurr, Chair of the Department of Economics and professor at Wayne State University, joined us today to explore the possibilities (You can listen to our interview with Spurr above.)

US Supreme Court

This Week in Michigan Politics, Jack Lessenberry and Christina Shockley discuss the U.S. Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, and the latest reactions by GM after the fallout from recalls for ignition switch problems.

GM Renaissance Center in Detroit.
John F. Martin / Creative Commons

DETROIT – General Motors is adding 35 product safety investigators as part of a larger restructuring in response to a series of safety recalls.

GM says the new investigators will more than double the size of its current team, to 55.

The company is also dividing its global vehicle engineering organization into two sections. A product integrity section will oversee vehicle and engine engineering as well as safety, while a separate department will oversee parts engineering and advanced vehicle development.

GM's product development chief Mark Reuss says the changes were made to ensure that potential problems are spotted and handled more quickly.

The government is investigating why it took GM more than a decade to recall small cars with a defective ignition switch.

Documents detail another delayed GM recall

Apr 19, 2014
GM

DETROIT (AP) - Government documents show that General Motors waited years to recall nearly 335,000 Saturn Ions for power steering failures despite getting thousands of consumer complaints and warranty repair claims. Additionally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration didn't seek a recall of the 2004-2007 compact cars even though it opened an investigation more than two years ago.

An image from the consumer alert issued for the GM ignition switch recall.
NHTSA

DETROIT (AP) - A federal judge in Texas has denied an emergency motion that would have forced General Motors to tell owners of 2 million recalled cars to stop driving their vehicles until their ignition switches are repaired.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos issued her order Thursday in Corpus Christi. Attorney Robert Hilliard, who represents some owners, had argued that the GM cars could at any moment lose power and expose their occupants to serious injury or death.

GM had urged the court not to intervene and instead let a recall overseen by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proceed. The carmaker said extensive testing had shown that if the recall instructions were followed, there was no risk that the ignition switch would fail.

GM has linked the switch to 13 deaths.

GM Renaissance Center in Detroit.
John F. Martin / Creative Commons

General Motors is asking a bankruptcy judge in New York to take a look at its "shield" – the shield that protects it from liability lawsuits that stem from crashes or defects that happened before its bankruptcy.

Veteran auto analyst Michelle Krebs joined us today. She explained what GM is trying to find out. *Listen to the audio above.

Flickr user afagen / Flickr

As we get together with our families to celebrate the holidays, we often think about those who are no longer with us. For many, a trip to a cemetery to visit loved ones is easy, but for others, it’s impossible.

For families with relatives buried in the Beth Olem cemetery in Detroit, they can’t go pay their respects.

The cemetery is hidden within GM’s Poletown plant, and is only open to the public two days every year: the Sunday before Passover and Rosh Hashanah.

People are able to visit the cemetery if they go on a private tour offered by the Michigan Jewish Historical Society. We heard from some of the visitors today.

Listen to the full interview above.

Photo by penywise / morgueFile

This Week in Review, Rina Miller and Jack Lessenberry discuss the latest with the Detroit bankruptcy, the continuing controversies over the General Motors recall, and the money problems involving the charter school system running Muskegon Heights schools.


screen grab / U.S. House of Representatives

Two engineers have been put on paid leave at General Motors as the company has an outside attorney investigate why it took more than 10 years for GM to recall millions of cars with faulty ignition switches.

GM says the switches have been linked to at least 13 deaths.

More on the suspension of the engineers from the Associated Press:

The company says in a statement Thursday that the action was taken after a briefing from former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas. He's been hired to figure out why GM was so slow to recall the cars.

2007 Cobalt, one of the recalled models
GM

A recall crisis at General Motors hasn't slowed sales of Cobalts, HHR's and other cars with a defective ignition switch.

In fact, the cars are selling for more than they did just a month or two ago.

Alec Gutierrez of Kelly Blue Book says used car prices go up in the spring.

"So, it's a matter of a rising tide lifting all boats," he says.

screen grab / U.S. House of Representatives

The new head of General Motors, Mary Barra, is on Capitol Hill today starting what will be two days of testimony.

She'll be questioned about a safety defect that's been linked to at least 13 deaths and has sparked a 2.6 million-vehicle recall.

At issue: What did GM know about the problems with ignition switches in its cars, and when did the company know it?

Watch it below:

The new head of General Motors, Mary Barra, goes to Capitol Hill Tuesday to begin two days of testimony.

It's the first time she'll be questioned about a safety defect that's been linked to at least 13 deaths and has sparked a 2.6 million-vehicle recall.

At issue for the Detroit CEO is a classic question: What did GM know about the problems with ignition switch problems in its cars, and when did the company know it?

And just as important for GM and government regulators is the follow-up question: Why did no one act sooner?

United Auto Workers membership grows slightly

Mar 29, 2014
UAW/Facebook

NEW YORK (AP) - A filing with the U.S. Department of Labor shows the United Auto Workers' membership grew by nearly 9,000 people last year. 

UAW's membership in 2013 was 391,415, compared to 382,513 in 2012. The union has been steadily adding members since 2009, when General Motors and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - General Motors is adding 824,000 small cars to its ongoing recall tied to defective ignition switches.

The company will add vehicles from the 2008-2011 model years to a recall that initially covered cars only through the 2007 model year.

The Chevrolet Cobalt, Chevrolet HHR, Pontiac G5, Pontiac Solstice, Saturn Ion and Saturn Sky are all involved in the recall.

GM says around 5,000 of the faulty switches were used for repairs on 2008-2011 model year cars. GM says it's expanding the recall to make sure it finds all the switches.

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