GM Fights Class Action Remedy Designed
to Save People From GM’s Rolling Firebombs
— 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
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
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
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.”