Exclusive: GM board warned of serious problems by quality manager in 2002

Fri Jun 20, 2014 9:03pm EDT
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By Marilyn Thompson and Ben Klayman

WASHINGTON/DETROIT (Reuters) - A former head of General Motors corporate quality audit warned the company’s board in a letter in 2002 that it needed to “stop the continued shipment of unsafe vehicles” and “recall suspect vehicles that were already in customers’ hands.”

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 published.

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.   Continued...

The U.S. flag flies at the Burt GM auto dealer in Denver June 1, 2009.  RTEUTERS/Rick Wilking