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Blinding Light News Flash: GM Recalls, the Story Behind the Story

Gary Schoichet
July 31, 2014
by Gary Schoichet IN AN ANNOUNCEMENT that shocked the worldwide auto industry, General Motors Chief Operating Officer Mary T. Barra, the first female CEO of GM or any major auto maker, announced that she was getting a tattoo with the words, “Kick Me,” and that GM would recall all its cars going back to 1955 “to fix any and everything that might endanger the lives or well-being of our customers.” She further called on other car companies to follow her example, saying, “We are not the only ones who have cheated a little bit on safety. Ford, remember the Pinto? Toyota, remember the unintended acceleration?” [caption id=“attachment_30780” align=“aligncenter” width=“418”]The Chevy wagon owned by Mary’s family when she was a girl. The Chevy wagon owned by Mary’s family when she was a girl.[/caption] Although Barra has said that her favorite cars are the sporty Chevrolet Camaro and the Pontiac Firebird, her first car memory was her family’s 1955 Chevy wagon, so she would start from there, she said. Promoted to CEO in January of 2014, Ms. Barra has testified before an angry Congress four times, with more hearings to come, as GM has recalled 25.2 million cars, SUVs, and pick-up trucks for a variety of reasons, including defective ignition switches that have led since 2009 to 13 known deaths and 54 accidents. Other hazards have included defective airbags and a number of electrical problems that can potentially cause fires. Barra urged owners not to drive those models in fire-prone areas of the country like the tinderlands of California and Arizona, “just to be on the safe side.” Barra succeeded Daniel “Dan” Akerman as CEO. Akerman resigned mysteriously in December 2013 because, he said, “I wanted to spend more time with my wife who is suffering from a serious cancer.” Three months later he went home to the Carlyle Group from whence he sprung. In his GM retirement announcement, he denied knowing anything about the safety issues or the upcoming Congressional hearings. BARRA IS A GM LIFER, starting at the company when she was 18. After completing college, she worked as a rank-and-file engineer, plant manager, corporate human resources head, and senior executive overseeing GM’s global product development before her coronation as CEO. Akerman, one of the group that selected her, said, “We picked Mary for her talent, not her gender. She can lie with the best of us and as a woman is more believable. Why do you think so many companies pick women as their spokesman?” “I know it’s hard to believe,” Barra told Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), “but all of our ignition switch problems started with a group of disgruntled assembly line workers who personally left one component out of the final assembly and created the billion dollar problem we have now. If not for them, we wouldn’t have needed the government bailout.” Senator Boxer expressed some sympathy for Mary Barra because of the situation into which she had been thrown. “Thank you Senator,” Barra replied. “Sometimes I wonder if those bastards did this on purpose because I’m a woman.” Gary Schoichet is a prize-winning labor journalist, editor, and photographer. He writes and photographs what he sees. He nevertheless still has a sense of humor.