GM Fights Class Action Remedy Designed to Save People From GM's Rolling Firebombs

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Center for Auto Safety (CAS) and Public Citizen today released the results of a successful crash test program to develop a retrofit fuel tank for GM's side saddle pickups, which have killed more people than any other defect in US auto history. The program was funded with a one million contribution by the plaintiff class action attorneys because GM refused to recall or design a replacement tank to stop the death toll.

The retrofit program was established as part of the settlement of a national class action lawsuit in Louisiana in which 5.8 million owners of 1973-91 GM C/K pickups are just now receiving notices from GM for certificates worth $1,000 on the purchase of a new GM vehicle, or $250 or $500 (if no other rebate) if transferred to a third party buying a GM vehicle. Just after the notices were mailed on April 18, 2001, GM went to court to block consumers from selling their certificates to the Certificate Redemption Group (CRG), which is willing to buy them for $100.

Consumers concerned about the fire hazards of the 1973-87 GM C/K pickups, which have been involved in over 1,800 fire crash fatalities since their introduction in the fall of 1972, can use the money from selling their certificates to offset the cost of the retrofit (approximately $125 if mass produced plus labor). Since December 1994, when the Department of Transportation (DOT) failed to order a recall, over 330 people have been killed in fire crashes of these GM pickups trucks.

The test program was carried out by the Automotive Safety Research Institute (ASRI) in Charlottesville, Va., under the direction of Dr. Kennerly Digges, the court-appointed trustee for the research and a former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration official. The retrofit program used a series of 50 mph angled impacts from a full-size Chevrolet Caprice, a test that DOT used to find the side saddle C/K pickups defective in an initial determination in 1994 because "significant leaks/spray" occurred in side impact crashes. ASRI's research program demonstrated that a retrofit inside-the-frame 19-gallon tank with 50 percent thicker steel gauge would pass DOT's test criteria with no fuel leakage in a 50 mph side impact crash from a 4000# Chevrolet Caprice.

The basic defect in GM's Rolling Firebombs is the placement of an unshielded gas tank outside the frame rail where it is vulnerable to puncture in side and angled impacts. GM engineer Edward Ivey - who authored the infamous cost-benefit analysis for GM that it was worth only $2.20 in additional cost per vehicle to GM to prevent a fire death - was asked in a deposition if he could name a worse place to put a fuel tank than outside the frame rail on the side. Mr. Ivey responded, "Well, yes. You could put it on the front bumper."

Also under the class action settlement, a portion (up to $5) of every coupon sold by the CRG up to $4 million must be allocated to ASRI to secure the mass production and distribution of a successful retrofit for the side saddle fuel tanks on the C/K pickups. By filing its appeal, GM has delayed mass production of the fuel tank.

"GM Executives get their bonuses cut when the company doesn't meet financial goals. But there are no consequences for executives for refusing to recall these rolling Firebombs. Now GM is trying to block anyone else from improving the safety of these trucks. Aren't 1,800 deaths and thousands of injuries enough," said Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen's President and former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator.

Added Clarence Ditlow, CAS Executive Director, "People are dying while GM is delaying. ASRI has done what GM refused to do and what DOT would not order - development of a safer fuel tank for the 4 million GM Firebomb pickups still on the road. Hundreds of lives could have been saved if GM had followed the advice of its engineers years ago to install safe fuel systems. Instead, GM placed sales over safety and people died. We call on GM to stop the stonewalling and authorize its dealers to install the ASRI retrofit tanks in its side saddle pickups."