General Motors’ chief executive Mary Barra called an agreement her company reached last week with the U.S. Department of Justice “tough.”
In responding to criticisms that the agreement was not tough enough, government attorney Preet Bharara said that “the law doesn’t always let us do what we wish we could do.”
And there is no question regarding what Clarence Ditlow, a prominent safety advocate who keeps a close eye on the auto industry, thinks.
“There’s no problem too big that money can’t solve,” he said, following public release of the seminal pact reached between General Motors and the DOJ that definitively settles issues relating to a deadly ignition-switch problem in many GM vehicles.
“GM is buying [its] way out of a criminal prosecution,” Ditlow said in the wake of the agreement.
Many readers are well acquainted, of course, with the sordid details that centrally mark the story of the ignition-switch defects in millions of GM vehicles over many years. Sudden engine stalls, disabled steering and braking and additional problems were directly attributed to scores of deaths across the country.
And what legions of Americans found flatly deplorable as progressively more was learned about the debacle was this: GM executives were well apprised of the defect years before they finally acknowledged it. Reportedly, the problem could have been fixed for under a buck per vehicle, but the car company balked at paying the price.
And so people died.
One commentator on the defect and recent settlement says that the company’s conduct “defies comprehension.”
Ditlow flatly states that “the law is just inadequate to the crime.” He and many other critics of the settlement lament the fact that no GM executive is likely to suffer any criminal liability in the matter at all, provided that the company cooperates with authorities going forward.
General Motors will pay a $900 million fine to settle the matter. Reportedly, the company took in about $156 billion in revenue during 2014.