In Floor Speech, Blumenthal Cites Case Contradicting GM Recall Notice

Owner Of 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt Removed All Added Weight From Car Key As Recall Notice Instructed And Her Vehicle Still Lost Power While She Was Driving

(Washington, DC) – In a speech today on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today cited a case that contradicts language in General Motors’ (GM)  recent recall notice regarding an ignition switch defect that could affect more than 2.6 million vehicles. According to the recall notice, and GM CEO Mary Barra’s testimony before the Senate, cars with faulty ignition switches can still be driven safely if all added weight is removed from the car key. However, in March of this year, a 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt lost power while being driven even though the owner had followed the recall notice’s instructions. Excerpts from Blumenthal’s speech are below. Video of the speech is here.   

“I asked [Ms. Barra] whether evidence about drivers who have, in fact, experienced a power loss, without adding additional weight to their key ring, if they encountered these kinds of conditions and their cars shut down would persuade her to change her view. And she answered to me, quote, ‘Senator, if I had any data, any incidences where just the key or the key in the ring there was any risk, I would ground these vehicles across the country.’”

“Ms. Barra, let me tell you about Laura Valle. In March of 2014, Ms. Valle, who owns a 2007 silver Chevrolet Cobalt received GM's recall letter instructing her to remove all items from her key ring, leaving only the vehicle key. As the recall notice instructed, she continued to drive her vehicle, using only the vehicle key. And yet, while driving with a friend, she lost power. Fortunately, she was on the side of the road, on the right side of the road, and she was able to pull the vehicle to a stop.”

“There will be other instances. I know that they will come forward to me and to my colleagues and to lawyers who may represent them. Today I call on GM to issue that warning.”

“There's more than ample evidence – or as Ms. Barra [stated] ‘data,’ ‘incidences’ – where the key or just the key in the ring led to the vehicle stopping, not because there was added weight but because they encountered rough road conditions or jarring events which could consist of simply leaning the wrong way, moving the driver's knee. These vehicles create risks that are unacceptable before they are repaired, and the advice GM should give to people is, bring these cars to be repaired immediately. Stop driving them.”

Additional remarks from the speech are below.

“Ms. Barra may believe that the tests and analysis done by her company – she referred to them yesterday – assure her and GM that driving these defective vehicles is safe as long as they are done with only the ignition key, without the added weight of additional keys. But she must know, because she has children, as do I and most members of this body, that they will drive with additional keys on that ignition switch. In fact, thousands – hundreds of thousands, millions of Americans have no idea that driving these vehicles with added keys provides that kind of potentially fatal risk.

“When these cars lose power, they lose steering, they lose their brakes, and they lose their airbags. Losing power, brakes, steering is terrifying. But airbags are essential if power is lost and the car crashes, as victims of these crashes have discovered to their sorrow and the grief of their families. This kind of pothole, a rough road condition, a potentially jarring event – how common are they? Well, this photograph is from Surf Avenue in Stratford, a beautiful coast along the coast of Connecticut, and I could take hundreds of these photographs from Connecticut, which has better roads than many other places in our state or country. They are as common as the roads themselves. Those risks are GM’s responsibility to warn. It has failed to do so.

“I asked Ms. Barra what evidence or facts would persuade her to issue a stronger warning. The recall notice itself says that risk increases if your key ring is carrying added weight, such as more keys, or the key fob itself – the key fob itself adds additional weight, or your vehicle experiences rough road conditions or other jarring or impact-related events. What would persuade her to issue the warning to consumers, stop driving these cars until they are repaired? And, specifically, I asked her whether evidence about drivers who have, in fact, experienced a power loss, without adding additional weight to their key ring, if they encountered these kinds of conditions and their cars shut down would persuade her to change her view. And she answered to me, quote, ‘Senator, if I had any data, any incidences where just the key or the key in the ring there was any risk, I would ground these vehicles across the country.’

“Ms. Barra, let me tell you about Laura Valle. In March of 2014, Ms. Valle, who owns a 2007 silver Chevrolet Cobalt received GM's recall letter instructing her to remove all items from her key ring, leaving only the vehicle key. As the recall notice instructed, she continued to drive her vehicle, using only the vehicle key. And yet, while driving with a friend, she lost power. Fortunately, she was on the side of the road, on the right side of the road, and she was able to pull the vehicle to a stop. There will be other instances. I know that they will come forward to me and to my colleagues and to lawyers who may represent them. Today I call on GM to issue that warning.

 

“There's more than ample evidence – or as Ms. Barra [stated] ‘data,’ ‘incidences’ – where the key or just the key in the ring led to the vehicle stopping, not because there was added weight but because they encountered rough road conditions or jarring events which could consistent of simply leaning the wrong way, moving the driver's knee. These vehicles create risks that are unacceptable before they are repaired, and the advice GM should give to people is, bring these cars to be repaired immediately. Stop driving them. In the meantime, use the loaners that GM has offered. GM has the opportunity to avoid another business decision. It may be more costly to provide loaners, but in the long run they will save lives and dollars.”