The letter from William McAleer shows that GM's directors and top
management were told about serious safety defects in vehicles that
were coming off the company’s production lines more than 11 years
before GM recalled millions of vehicles for faulty ignition switches
linked to at least 13 deaths. The contents have not been previously
GM spokesman Jim Cain said he was unable to address the details of
the events 12 years ago, but that the company would take such
concerns seriously today.
"We are conducting what we believe is the most exhaustive and
comprehensive safety review in the history of the company, and that
includes looking at vehicles that were built in the late 1990s. And
if we find anything that is a safety issue, we will act," he said.
McAleer, former head of a group responsible for quality checks on
cars shipped in North America, said his unit regularly found serious
problems in new vehicles and that when he raised his concerns he was
told his team should stay out of safety issues.
He told the board it should stop shipments of unsafe cars, launch
recalls, and revise quality controls to make the company
“independent of corporate politics and cost-cutting concerns.”
McAleer said he was transferred out of his quality job in late 1998.
Court records show he unsuccessfully sued GM at least four times,
primarily seeking whistleblower protection.
A copy of the letter was sent to each of the 12 directors at the
time – including then CEO Rick Wagoner and then Chairman John Smith.
In it, McAleer accused the highest ranking quality executive in
North America at the time, Tom LaSorda, of a “stonewall” that
included trying to stop McAleer from contacting higher management.
LaSorda, who was then a GM vice president, later became CEO of
Chrysler and then CEO of Fisker Automotive. He is currently a
venture capitalist at IncWell.
LaSorda launched a new safety process, based on a Procter & Gamble
program for toothpaste, that was intended to document
life-threatening defects, McAleer said in the letter to the board.
He described that as an inadequate response that allowed defects to
continue and amounted to “willful ignorance” of problems by GM.
LaSorda declined to comment on the accusations on Friday. In a 1999
letter from LaSorda to McAleer, which was shown by McAleer to
Reuters, LaSorda wrote, “I have taken decisive action with the
operating groups and involved senior leadership with a clear process
which has been put into place.”
GM spokesman Cain said that board minutes from 2002 did not show any
indication that the McAleer letter was discussed, and he said that
the letter from LaSorda appeared to have responded appropriately.
"The documents we have in front of us suggest we were trying to do
the right thing," he said.
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Eight days ago, McAleer sent copies of the 2002 document to members
of House and Senate committees now investigating GM and its handling
of the ignition switch issue. McAleer provided the documents to
Reuters along with copies of postal delivery receipts that he said
showed copies of the letter to each director were delivered to GM
McAleer told Reuters that managers operated in fear of losing their
jobs if they raised safety concerns.
He also showed Reuters a letter from January 1999, in which he asked
LaSorda for a meeting with "GM Legal" and LaSorda’s boss, saying:
“The current situation represents a clear and present danger to both
our customers and our shareholders.”
LaSorda responded the next month in his letter but did not address
McAleer's request for meetings with other GM executives.
Bloomberg Businessweek this week described a suit by McAleer against
GM in a story about another employee, a colleague of McAleer named
Courtland Kelley, who also unsuccessfully sued the automaker. Kelley
is still employed by GM and the company has said it will reexamine
his safety concerns.
Lawmakers in a hearing this week grilled GM CEO Mary Barra and
outside lawyer Anton Valukas, who investigated GM’s response to the
switch issue. In a report published June 5, he found widespread
incompetence and negligence in many GM divisions, but he said that
senior GM officials and its board of directors were unaware of the
The report said that the Valukas team reviewed all board
correspondence dating back to 2003. McAleer’s letter to the board is
from July 2002.
(Editing By Peter Henderson)
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