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GM's culture of unaccountability
Everything you need to know about the auto giant's recent failures, in four paragraphs
 
CEO Mary Barra has her work cut out for her.
CEO Mary Barra has her work cut out for her. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Now we know where General Motors went wrong, said Max Nisen at Quartz. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a 315-page report last week on the circumstances that led to GM's botched ignition-switch recall, and it's a doozy. The report reveals slow and inadequate investigations, "an intense focus" on cost control over customer safety, and a corporate culture that "emphasized deferring responsibility, instead of taking it on." But GM's biggest failure may have been the lack of oversight, as the company allowed rogue engineers to "make decisions and changes that cost lives and caused injury." Employee autonomy is great, but it "only works when there's accountability and transparency."

If you're looking for more transparency, don't count on finding it, said Edward Niedermeyer at Bloomberg View. GM is between a rock and a hard place. Yes, the automaker has to "regain the public's trust after waiting more than a decade to recall a deadly defect." But it also has to guard against "as much liability and public relations fallout as possible." And by not releasing the results of its own internal investigation, GM has already "opted to err on the side of caution rather than accountability." That could become a real obstacle as CEO Mary Barra works to remake GM's image. And while Barra claims she wants to reform the company's culture, her "professed shock" is tough to reconcile with the executive depicted in the report who blithely describes customs like the "GM nod: when everyone nods in agreement...but then leaves the room with no intention to follow through."

At least some heads are starting to roll, said Keith Ablow at Fox News. After the report was released, Barra fired 15 employees and disciplined five others. But the crisis is far from over. GM is still facing legal action, including probes by law enforcement, over the faulty ignition switches. And "if specific decision-makers" knew about the problem and still chose to wait on the recall, those employees should not only be fired, they "should also be jailed." Corporate executives can't "knowingly proffer goods that can predictably cause injury or death," and doing so cannot be viewed as simply "a case of product liability."

Civil cases will certainly play a part, too, said Ashby Jones in The Wall Street Journal. Already, "more than 80 ignition-switch-related lawsuits have been filed against GM," threatening to cost the automaker up to $1,000 per car in depreciation claims alone. That's big money in a recall that involved 2.6 million vehicles. And that doesn't even account for claims over injuries and deaths. The company won't comment in detail, but Barra has vowed that GM will "do the right thing by victims." That might include a planned compensation program, expected to launch in August, that would cut checks to "victims and their families who file claims" provided they agree not to seek further damages in open court.

 
Sergio Hernandez is business editor of The Week's print edition. He has previously worked for The DailyProPublica, the Village Voice, and Gawker.

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