DESCUENTO LECTORES

Docs Show Current GM VP Aware Of Ignition Problem In 2005; Federal Grand Jury Probing Recall Delay

A May 2005 e-mail from GM's Doug Parks -- then chief engineer on the Chevy Cobalt and now a VP at the car maker -- shows that he was well aware of the problem almost a decade before these vehicles were recalled. He is not one of the 15 GM employees who have been fired over this debacle.

A May 2005 e-mail from GM’s Doug Parks — then chief engineer on the Chevy Cobalt and now a VP at the car maker — shows that he was well aware of the problem almost a decade before these vehicles were recalled. He is not one of the 15 GM employees who have been fired over this debacle. Click image to see full-size.



General Motors’ internal investigation claims that no top executives at the car company were aware of the defective ignition switch that has resulted in at least 13 deaths (and likely many more) and the recall of nearly millions of vehicles. But newly released documents from the Congressional investigation into the debacle indicate that one current GM Vice-President was made aware of the problem as early as 2005.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, which recently grilled GM CEO Mary Barra, has released around 80 new documents unearthed during its investigation, much of it correspondence between various GM engineers and folks at Delphi, the manufacturer who supplied the defective switch.


But one internal GM e-mail [PDF] from June 2005 details potential fixes to the problem and includes news stories from the NY Times and others about reports of Chevy Cobalts mysteriously turning off because drivers bumped the ignition switches with their keys.


Among the intended recipients of that e-mail was Doug Parks, who used to be chief engineer on the Cobalt and the Saturn Ion, another recalled vehicle. Parks was not a VP at the time, but has been the company’s VP Global Product Programs since 2012, as is indicated in these org charts provided to investigators. He’s also been described as a close associate of Barra, herself a longtime veteran at GM before rising to the CEO position at the beginning of 2014.


Another e-mail from 2005 shows that Park was indeed aware of the issue, as he asks, “can we come up with a ‘plug’ to go into the key that centers the ring through the middle of the key and not the edge/slot? This appears to be the only real, quick solution.”


The reason that it’s important for General Motors to claim that no top execs at the company knew of the ignition problem before 2009 involves a tricky condition of the company’s bankruptcy restructuring. As part of that deal, the post-bankruptcy “New GM” can not be held liable for non-accident claims related to defective vehicles produced by pre-bankruptcy “Old GM.”


However, lawyers representing plaintiffs in class-action suits against the car maker say that the fact that the ignition problem went without a recall for more than a decade is a sign that the New GM conspired to cover up the defect for several years.


The fact that a chief engineer learned of this problem at the Old GM and kept it with him (or disregarded it; which may be worse) through his rise to a high-profile vice-presidency at the company would seem to give the plaintiffs’ lawyers much-needed ammunition.


While not from a VP or other top exec, an internal 2009 e-mail about the Cobalt ignition problem gives an indication as to how the problem had become a part of GM lore by this point.


“Gentleman! This issue has been around since man first lumbered out of sea and stood on two feet,” writes one employee about the issue of changing the key hole on Cobalts to lessen the chances of the ignition being turned off. “In fact, I think Darwin wrote the first [Problem Resolution Tracking System] on this and included as an attachment as part of his ‘Theory of Evolution.’”


In what may be additional evidence of either a cover-up or pure ineptitude, an e-mail from the NHTSA Office of Defects Investigation to GM from July 2013 says that the general perception of GM’s response to questions about the Cobalt investigation is that the car maker is “slow to communicate” and “slow to act.”


“The documents that we have received to date paint a disturbing and devastating picture, a beyond-worst-case systemic breakdown that led to lives needlessly lost,” said Congressmen Tim Murphy and Fred Upton in a statement to Detroit News. “But as the recalls mount, important questions remain and our investigation continues into both GM and NHTSA.”


The newly released papers also reveal that there is indeed a federal grand jury looking into the ignition delay, as some of the documents from Delphi include stamps indicating that they were submitted to the Justice Department under a grand jury subpoena.


A rep for the company confirms with Detroit News that “Delphi has been cooperating with all government agencies to provide any requested information.”


The documents also help to clarify the process through which the GM engineer responsible for the switch made under-the-radar changes that resulted in a safer ignition but failed to change the product number, meaning that defective and non-defective switches were commingled in GM inventory for years after the fix was made.


Bloomberg reports that the engineer — one of the 15 people who have been fired in the wake of the recall — authorized the switch improvements after an internal panel said no to the proposal for a new ignition switch that wouldn’t turn off with a slight tug or a bump of the knee.


E-mail correspondence from 2002 between this engineer and Delphi shows the discussion of how the existing switch could be strengthened. Delphi said that making it more difficult for the switch to be turned off could have the unintended effect of making it harder to turn the start the car with a key. This could lead to switches breaking or wearing out too quickly. “[D]o nothing,” replied the GM engineer, “maintain present course.”


Meanwhile, GM announced today that it will finally reveal details of its plan to compensate victims of crashes in cars related to the ignition defect. As Barra told lawmakers last week, accepting compensation from the GM fund would be in lieu of a victim or a victim’s family seeking legal action against the company.




by Chris Morran via Consumerist

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Red Cross Raised More Than $300 Million After Hurricane Sandy: How Did They Spend It?


Shady charities pop up after a disaster, and the standard advice at such times is to donate instead to established, trusted organizations like the Red Cross. Only the Red cross, which raised more than $300 million after Hurricane Sandy isn’t keen to have the world know what they spent all of that money on.

The Charities Bureau of the New York State Attorney General’s office asked the Red Cross for detailed information about its fundraising and spending after the Superstorm, and the organization complied…eventually. The AG has this data, so the investigative reporters of ProPublica filed a Freedom of Information Law request to get a copy as part of their ongoing investigation of post-Sandy spending. The Red Cross asked that large portions of the document be redacted as “trade secrets.”


While one could probably make a legitimate argument that some parts of the document that describe the Red Cross’s fundraising practices or other internal information really are trade secrets, some of the requested redactions are baffling. We know this because the Attorney General’s office denied some of their requests, and the letter telling them so is public. For example, the Red Cross’s lawyers asked to have the title of one page redacted. That title consists of two lines, one of which just says “American Red Cross.”


Where did the more than $300 million go? Donors have a right to know, but the Red Cross refuses to even separate out how much money budgeted for certain expenses was spent during the disaster, and how much allocated for future efforts.


Red Cross: How We Spent Sandy Money Is a ‘Trade Secret’ [ProPublica]

Long After Sandy, Red Cross Post-Storm Spending Still a Black Box [ProPublica]




by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

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Putting Your Restaurant On A Reality Show About Cruddy Eateries Probably Won’t Save It

kn Going on a reality television show likely won’t fix all of your restaurant’s shortcomings, even if a hot-headed chef uses all the profanities in the world. Just ask the owners of half the restaurants to be featured on Gordon Ramsay’s now-defunct Kitchen Nightmares. Here’s a hint, their eateries are now defunct, too.


A new report by Grub Street New York found that nearly 60% of the restaurants that appeared on Kitchen Nightmares are now closed and nearly 30% of those restaurants closed within one year of being featured on television.


In all, Kitchen Nightmares featured 77 restaurants in its seven seasons on the air. Of those, 47 restaurants closed, 23 of them within the first year of their episode airing.


The closure rate really isn’t that bad considering The National Restaurant Association estimates about 30% of restaurants close within the first year of operation and another 30% close in the second year.


And to be fair the restaurants featured on Ramsay’s show were already struggling for a number of reasons. Not to mention a good chunk of the earlier episodes were filmed during the depths of the recession.


In fact, only one restaurant from the first two seasons, which aired between 2007-2009, is still currently in operation.


On the flip side, Ramsay was able to contribute (maybe) to the operation of at least 30 restaurants that still serve customers today.


One of the surviving restaurants happens to be the infamous Amy’s Banking Company of Scottsdale, AZ, which proved to be one of the most memorable establishments featured on the show.


The company, whose episode aired during the sixth season of the show, first gained recognition in 2010 when a paranoid, unhinged rant aimed at a man who posted a one-star review about an undercooked pizza went viral.


Three years later the company was featured on a Kitchen Nightmares episodes in which Ramsay walked away from the makeover – a first for the series. The bakery owners then went on a sensationally terrible media blitz that included canceling press conferences, kicking out reporters and calling for an end to Reddit.


Kitchen Nightmares isn’t the only show that sets out to whip restaurant owners into shape. The Food Network show Restaurant: Impossible, hosted by chef Robert Irvine takes an admittedly less anger-filled approach to turning around restaurants.


According to the Food Network Gossip blog, 54 of the 98 restaurants to be featured on that show are currently open with the same owners, four of the restaurants have been sold but remain open.


But it’s not just your locally owned restaurant that faces challenges, even celebrity-owned establishments have a difficult time making it in this cruel foodie world.


Graham Elliot, Ramsay’s co-host on FOX’s food competition show MasterChef, recently shut down his Greenwich, CT, restaurant after just six months in business.


Over 60 Percent of the Restaurants on ‘Kitchen Nightmares’ Are Now Closed [Grub Street]




by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

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