Mary Barra earns $33 big ones, or about 634 times what an average Holden worker takes home.
She’s worth about $90m and she’s the chairman and chief executive of General Motors in Detroit. She started in the CEO job in January 2014, when the GM stock price was $US40. Today after closing five factories in the US, punting 14,000 employees, “winding down” sales, design and engineering operations in Australia and New Zealand, “retiring” the Holden brand by 2021 and flicking about 6000 people, most of whom won’t get similar jobs, despite Ford’s callous PR offer, the stock price is $US35. Sensational.
One year after Mazza took over, Pete Flaherty, the boss of the National Legal and Policy Centre, wrote to then GM chair Timmy Solso, claiming that GM was giving large cash donations to charitable causes to effectively buy honours for Mary.
“The company has vigorously publicised these awards, apparently as part of a campaign to promote and rehabilitate Ms Barra’s image in the wake of the ignition switch recall delay, for which the death toll continues to rise. Unfortunately, this campaign has backfired and resulted in negative publicity for the company,” Pete wrote. “On November 10 of last year, we asked the National Women’s History Museum to rescind a planned Katherine Graham Living Legacy Award, a request also made by the GM Survivors group. Barra’s travel around the country to accept awards has really been unseemly. I hope she will now instead focus on the safety issues before her. Since May, we have repeatedly asked for a recall of SUVs and light trucks with a brake line corrosion defect, only to be rebuffed by GM.
“On November 17, NWHM withdrew the award, an event that garnered more media attention than the original award ever would have received.”
The GM Ignition Compensation Fund found 12 cases where people suffered quadriplegia, paraplegia, amputation, brain damage or burns from a crash for which the defective ignition switch was the primary cause. By June, GM had recalled 28 million cars for a variety of reasons.
Vox’s Brad Plumer investigated the scandal and wrote: “On March 31, 2014, GM CEO Mary Barra appeared before congress and couldn’t explain why it took a decade for the company to recall its vehicles after identifying the problem as far back as 2001 and 2004.
“It looks like regulators were slow to respond, although the agency in charge has blamed GM for not being forthcoming with information.”
A 2014 New York Times investigation found that while Mazza Barra called her company’s slow response an “extraordinary” situation, “an analysis by The New York Times of the automaker’s recalls since it emerged from bankruptcy in 2009 shows its handling of the ignition problem was not an isolated event: GM has repeatedly used letters, called technical service bulletins, to dealers and sometimes to car owners as stopgap safety measures instead of ordering timely recalls.
“The review by The Times found multiple instances in which the company used service bulletins instead of immediately recalling cars, with the gap between a bulletin and a recall ranging from six months to nine years.”
In October 2011, “Ms Barra, who was then vice-president for global product development, received an email from a senior GM engineer telling her that the Ion might have the same power steering problems that led to the recall of the Cobalt and G5. “Mary,” the email said, “during the initial Cobalt case, the Ion data did not justify being included. The situation has been evolving. We will meet and understand the latest data.” In May 2012, the company sent out two more bulletins, one for dealers and one for owners. In bold, the letter to owners stated: “Do not take your vehicle to your GM dealer as a result of this letter unless you believe that your vehicle has the condition as described above.”
Shara Lynn Towne was a 37-year-old mother of five. In July 2004 Shara’s new Saturn Ion went into a power pole. Shara died on impact. She was wearing her seatbelt, but the airbags didn’t inflate. In the first case on behalf of a victim of GM ignition, the family sued GM. Family lawyer Brian Chase said: “GM knew of this defect back then, and yet made a decision to quietly settle out of court so there would be no media or government attention.”
The March 2006 action sued GM, the dealership and two of GM’s parts suppliers. GM chose to confidentially settle out of court in 2007, and the case was dismissed. At the time of the settlement, the Saturn Ion had been on the market for five years. This means that the defect posed a potentially fatal hazard for five years before the public got its first clue that a defect might exist. However, it was quickly covered up by GM’s confidential settlement. Shara’s son Arron Burdge says: “My mother was a light switch in any dark room. She was radiant and beautiful, full of life and laughter.”
Sixteen-year-old Amber Marie Rose was adopted at birth by Terry DiBattista. In 2005, Amber was reunited with her birth mother Laura Christian. In July that year, driving her new 2005 Chevy Cobalt, alcohol-affected and after a fight with her boyfriend, her car left the road and hit a tree. The Chevy’s airbags never deployed after the crash because of the faulty ignition. The carmaker admitted it knew about the problem as early as 2004. Her family’s lawyers, Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, said: “Large manufacturers should not be able to hide defects in their cars just because they have the money to pay off families.”
Outside the congressional hearings, Terry DiBattista said: “It is clear that GM is only concerned with their bottom line and not the safety of our loved ones.”
This is the same GM that sucked Holden dealers into investing significant millions in upgrading or building showrooms, an investment demanded of them by Holden, while knowing they were going to end the brand.
It’s the same GM that only told the government and dealers minutes before the press release went out. This is the same GM that happily took more than $2bn from the government to keep the business going.
This is not the death of Holden, that was in 2017 when they shut manufacturing. This is the funeral of an arrogant multinational that treats countries like Australia as if they were a dealer in Toad Suck, Arkansas.
To you leave on a brighter note, here’s pic of a 1931 Alfa Romeo 6c 1750 GTC Fifth Series Cabriolet, which Bonhams will have ready for you at Amelia Island in March. Yours for about $1.2m with no ignition problems.