Mar 13

Driverless Cars

The concept is insane on it’s face. Not that driving takes that much skill in routine conditions like staying on a highway, but complicated situations abound. I challenge you to navigate to Boston’s Logan Airport at rush hour with emergency vehicles fighting for a clear path to whatever emergency they were resopnding.

Not that I got a scratch or was less than on time because I am that good, just that it was a lot more stressful than Watson level chess because the board is literally (yes I know what literal means) undefined and there are a lot more moving pieces.

Installing that level of computing power in a car is never going to be cost effective compared to a random hormone addled 16 year old who has mastered the art of parallel parking.

And automobile manufacturers don’t care. A certain level of death, dismemberment, and disability falls in the rounds, even if you do sue, and win in court,

Parts From Hell
by Dianne Feeley, Jacobin
3.10.17

As early as 2001, GM engineers discovered that the ignition switch it used in its compacts could easily slip out of place and stall a car. If the switch was joggled to its accessory position by either a heavy key chain or a person bumping against it, the car could lose power. Heedless of this dangerous possibility, General Motors kept installing them in their Cobalts and Saturn Ions, and even added them to their Chevrolet HHR, Pontiac Solstice, and Pontiac Pursuit. Evidence now indicates that from the beginning, the switch met neither internal GM standards nor the federal standard. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requires auto companies to notify it within five working days if a product flaw is detected, yet GM remained silent, and between 2003 and 2007 installed the defective switch on 2.6 million cars.

Internally, two GM engineers, Ray DiGiorgio and Gary Altman, attempted to modify the design, considering two potential fixes in 2004. But in a decades-old pattern, GM rejected both as too costly, despite being less than a dollar per switch. Instead it kept tabs on the number of resulting front-end crashes caused by the defective switch.

Evidence now shows that after DiGiorgio’s suggestions were rejected by GM’s Safety and Research Strategies team, he went around the company’s decision, signing a contract in April 2006 for a modified version with Delphi, the supplier. But anxious to avoid being caught going against a corporate decision, DiGiorgio never changed the switch’s code number. As a result dealerships had no idea a replacement part existed.

The results have been devastating; lives and families have been destroyed from deaths and injuries caused by the faulty switches. In 2013 members of GM Recall Survivors traveled to Detroit for the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting. Calling on shareholders to hold GM executives accountable, the group held press conferences, rallied in front of the GM headquarters and met with GM CEO Mary Barra. They demanded compensation for victims and their families, for company officials to be held criminally liable for their actions, and for changes in the law to improve safety standards.

Laura Christian, spokesperson for the survivors, and mother of Ambrose Rose, killed at fifteen while driving a 2005 Cobalt, stated her objective in coming to Detroit: “I believe the shareholders need to know that they may be the key to helping hold GM to a safety standard rather than a profit culture.”

As early as May 9, 2009 GM had the data from black boxes of Chevrolet Cobalts confirming that the defective ignition switch was responsible for deaths and injuries. Yet when families attempted to investigate why the death occurred, GM claimed there was no evidence of a defect and in at least one case threatened to sue if the family did not withdraw their lawsuit.

By February 13, 2014 GM had been forced to recall 1.37 million cars, replacing what Ray DiGiorgio — the design engineer who first okayed the part — deemed “the switch from hell.” By September 2016, GM had recalled 2.6 million cars because of the ignition switch and paid $2 billion in criminal and civil penalties — including $900 million to NHTSA for failure to inform the federal agency and customers.

But GM remained defiant. When CEO Barra was called to testify before Congress on April 1, 2014, she insisted that, after many tests, the engineering department reported the switch was safe enough for even her own son to drive as long as there was nothing else on the ring but the ignition key. Only in passing did she acknowledge that simply bumping the key ring could cause the switch to rotate and the engine to stall. That same month Time magazine named her one of the hundred most influential people in the world.

To date GM has settled cases involving 124 deaths and over 1,250 injuries. Industry analysts insist that Barra handled the ignition switch crisis well and in January 2016 she became chair of GM’s board of directors. Fifteen GM lawyers, and engineers DiGiorgio and Altman, have been fired but no criminal charges have been filed.

One of many examples, several of which are included in the article.

The main point is that one of the reasons Neo Liberal Monopolistic Capitalism doesn’t work is that there are utterly no consequences for producing defective and harmful products, even in a market as relatively competitive as automobiles.

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  1. Vent Hole

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