The automaker was hit with a 35 million dollar fine on Friday May 16 2014 for being mum about a defective ignition problem affecting 2.6 million older small cars for over a decade.
The government's investigation into the faulty ignition switch issue turned up an unexpected document.
The document; a 2008 GM training document includes the faulty vehicle list and warns employees to stick to the facts and not use language that could come back to bite the company in the derriere.
For example the word "defect," is taboo and "can be regarded as a legal admission" and should be avoided, the company document says.
Wait there is more.
When speaking about recalls employees are cautioned to avoid adjectives like bad, terrifying, dangerous, horrific and evil. Okay I can understand why "deathtrap", and "widow-maker" (both are on the list) might not be smart lingo when referencing autos, especially screwed up recalls but "always" and "never" (on the list also) seem like fairly generic words to me.
One forbidden phrase on the list is self-incriminating to a fault for GM. "Corvair-like" is forbidden. Apparently, the automaker does not want to stir the dormant ashes of a Ralph Nader reference suggesting the Corvair was unsafe.
There is one word on the list I did not know existed. For instance there is "Kevorkianesque". Kevorkiansque is derived from Kevorkian as in the late assisted-suicide activist Jack Kevorkian. A malfunctioning vehicle resulting in the fatality of a person with a dim view on life could be held up as a suicide assist tool I suppose.
Phrases like unbelievable engineering screw-up and potentially disfiguring were also discouraged.
GM says that certain language could be misinterpreted by someone outside the company. Employees were asked to think how they would feel if something they were writing was reported in a major newspaper.
David Friedman, the acting chief of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said that the materials were part of a larger problem at General Motors. It certainly reinforces a modus operandi of secrecy in regards to defects when considering GM engineers seem hesitant to send documents with words like "defect" up the chain of command.
Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, says what GM did isn’t uncommon in the auto industry. Automakers are required by federal law to report safety defects to the government within five days of discovering them, so they’re cautious about using language that will trigger that law.
Maybe GM will change its position toward its mistakes in the future. The take away from this one is it ultimately cost more to ignore a problem than it does to admit fault at the beginning at fix the problem.