At one General Motors plant, an assembly line worker noticed that a part appeared to be assembled incorrectly. He submitted an alert, the automaker investigated it, and the early warning meant GM had to repair fewer than 200 cars.
In another instance, a GM engineer riding in a 2010 Chevrolet Impala submitted a similar alert after discovering a problem affecting electronic gauges and the front passenger airbag when his future in-laws shifted positions in the front passenger seat. GM investigated and discovered that in certain 2009-2010 Impalas, the passenger seat frame rubbed against electrical sensor wires so that the sensor did not recognize when someone was sitting in the seat, affecting the airbag and possibly disabling it completely, along with the seat belt pretensioners. GM would eventually issue a recall.
As the Detroit Free Press writes, they’re two examples of how the automaker has moved past the “don’t tell” culture that brought about the crisis involving its faulty ignition switches, which were linked to 124 deaths and resulted in one of the largest vehicle recalls in U.S. history. A federal judge nearly a year ago dismissed a 2015 criminal case against GM, which agreed to pay a $900 million fine and accept three years under oversight by an independent monitor, which has already concluded.
“Openness and accountability are two things that are very different at GM now,” Maryann Combs, GM’s Vice President of global vehicle safety, told the Freep. “Everyone is encouraged to speak up on safety issues. They’ll be followed up on and we’ll take action.”
In the wake of the scandal, CEO Mary Barra fired 15 people, including eight executives, and the company has said it has added a new safety structure. It created Combs’ position to ensure that GM brass won’t be blind sighted again by a major defect, and it launched a program called Speak Up For Safety to encourage all employees, dealers and suppliers to elevate concerns to the field investigators. Improving safety is also part of new-employee orientation and annual training.
The number of recalls of GM vehicles has been trending downward in recent years, but experts say it’s too soon to draw conclusions. Combs said her team now gets several hundred safety alerts from employees each month, and around 90% of them have a name attached to them.