The Center for Auto Safety is the nation’s premier independent, member driven, non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving vehicle safety, quality, and fuel economy on behalf of all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

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

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


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.”