GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An automotive expert says that while it’s clear something went wrong in GM’s investigation into faulty ignition switches, a high-level conspiracy to suppress the problem is unlikely.
Dr. David Cole is the Chairman Emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor and Chairman of Auto Harvest. He was formerly Director of the Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation (OSAT) at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute and an engineering professor at the University of Michigan. He has worked extensively on internal combustion engines, vehicle design, and overall automotive industry trends. His father was also a past president of General Motors.
In short, he knows the automotive industry.
“Getting to the root cause of something like this is extremely difficult,” Cole said about the GM ignition recall.
Part of why it is so difficult, he said, is because cars are built with thousands of parts that are manufactured all over the world.
He also said cars are as complex a machine as a plane. When parts start to fail, it takes time for the auto maker to sift through all the information and find the common denominator causing the problem.
“There are no questions that there were mistakes made at GM. There were mistakes made at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But when you look at the complexity of the industry, it is not surprising that we have seen this occur time and again,” he said.
Cole compares the time it takes to figure out what is going wrong to what we often see play out in courtrooms.
“We see kind of think in the courtroom all the time, where literally months and months are taken in often simple cases to put stories together.”
Making matters worse and more complicated is that when common issues started coming to light, GM was in the middle of bankruptcy, restructuring, closing plants and laying off staff.
But as for a cover-up, Cole said it’s not likely in high-ranking GM officials.
“You will never ever see anybody even at a modest level try to cover up something. Because one of the lessons that has been known for years is in this day and age you can’t hide things. And if you try to cover it up, the cover-up is worse than the sin that has was committed to begin with,” Cole said.
Not everyone agrees with that.
A U.S. senator from Missouri accused a lead engineer at GM of a cover-up after the senator produced documentation contradicting what the engineer said under oath about not authorizing a change to the ignition switch.
Thursday, two GM engineers were placed on paid administrative leave. GM CEO Mary Barra said that one of the engineers may have lied under oath.
She also said placing the two on leave was an initial step in the process of finding out who is responsible for the ignition switch issue.
GM has linked 13 deaths to their ignition switch problems in several of their cars.