For over a century, General Motors has been manufacturing and selling vehicles globally. Its long history began in 1908 when William C. Durant bought up the Buick Motor Company, Oldsmobile, Cadillac, Elmore and a company called Oakland, which would be renamed Pontiac, and later adding Chevrolet to his Detroit-headquartered conglomerate. He gave this new company the name General Motors, birthing an automotive giant, that became one of the biggest car manufacturers to ever exist.
Not that things have always run smoothly for the company, which has suffered both automotive and financial crises over the hundred years it has been in business. Some of their cars have had potentially fatal flaws, while the company itself has tried to bury some of the worst news stories to come out of their worldwide factories.
19 Refused To Take Early Action To Tackle Emissions
Environmental activists and fears about climate change may seem like a 21st century phenomenon, but the motoring industry was aware as early as the 1950s and 60s that exhaust fumes were not good for Mother Nature. General Motors, like many other car manufacturers, fought hard to prevent early emissions controls from being introduced.
18 1960s Models Recalled Over Gas Leaks
Opposition to cleaning up their act wasn’t the only problem General Motors had in the 1960s; some of their cars also had problems with gas leaking into the car’s cabin itself, including dangerous carbon monoxide. Owners took the company to court over allegations that they and passengers had suffered injuries as a result of the flaw.
17 GM Spied On Their Workers In The 1930s
Back in the 1930s, organized labor was becoming a real problem for car manufacturers, who didn’t want unions giving their staff crazy ideas about decent pay and time off! General Motors actually recruited employees to spy on their own workmates and report back about those who were the biggest agitators for change.
16 High Incidence Of Cancer At Ohio Factory
Car factories can be dangerous places, and injuries are not uncommon. However, studies found that there was a high incidence of cancer cases among workers at one General Motors plant in Ohio. Figures showed that the number of cancer deaths among employees at Lordstown was four times higher than expected.
15 Chevrolet Corvair Dubbed Unsafe By Ralph Nader
The Chevrolet Corvair may have looked like the ultimate stylish 60s car, but one young lawyer and future Presidential candidate Ralph Nader took the company to task over the vehicle’s safety issues, even going as far as to publish a book on the problems associated with the Corvair called Unsafe at Any Speed.
14 And The Company Then Got Caught Spying On Him
General Motors didn’t take this criticism lying down and set about trying to find some way to discredit Nader. Unfortunately, this just led to more bad press for the company when they had to pay a court settlement after admitting that they had invaded Nader’s privacy when they sent spies to look into his background.
13 GM Ignition Switch Recalls
One of General Motors’ biggest crises of recent years was when they were forced to recall 2.5 million cars (eventually) when a fatal flaw was found in the ignition switch. The fault meant that the ignition switch could turn to the off position when the car was in motion, cutting power to the steering, brakes, and airbags.
12 Company Faced Record Fine As A Result
There were a number of fatalities and serious injuries as a result of the problem with the ignition switch, yet the company seemed to take a long time to issue all necessary recalls. General Motors eventually had to pay a record $35 million fine as a result of the investigation into the scandal by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
11 Who Killed The Electric Car?
Electric cars may be the next big thing in motoring, but the technology could already be a lot more advanced if General Motors hadn’t scrapped their electric car program in the 1990s. The company launched the EV-1 in 1997 but scrapped it six years later, leading to the production of a documentary called Who Killed the Electric Car?
10 Bosses Apologize To The American People
A number of car manufacturers faced financial problems in the late 2000s, General Motors included. The company tried to get ahead of the bad press that they knew would follow by producing a slick TV ad to issue an apology to the American people. Not that many of those who lost their jobs were in the mood for forgiveness.
9 GM Bailed Out By The Government
In 2008, the US Government agreed on a bailout for a number of auto companies, including an astonishing $13.4 billion for General Motors alone. The total bailout package only came to $24.9 billion, so it is clear that GM was facing the most serious financial crisis despite their warm words to consumers.
8 Filed For Bankruptcy In 2009
In the end, the bailout couldn’t even hold off the inevitable crash, and General Motors was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009 – a process which allowed them to write off debts while still being able to relaunch the company under the same name just one month later. The government was forced to invest even more public money, just to keep GM afloat.
7 GM Workers Mounted A Major Strike In 2007
Of course, the company had been in financial trouble for some time before declaring bankruptcy, and one way in which they had tried to save money was to lay off workers. This led to a mass strike by 73,000 General Motors employees and members of the United Automobile Workers union which lasted for two days in September 2007.
6 Fined Over Poor Record-Keeping At GM Plants
General Motors workers had also raised concerns about health and safety violations at some of the company’s factories. But when authorities went to investigate, they found that GM had often not even recorded accidents or safety problems – an action for which they were fined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
5 Fined For Safety Violations At Oklahoma Factory
Staff from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration did find several safety violations at a General Motors factory in Oklahoma, however. They were called in after a worker lost his life, and the company ended up being fined $1.9 million for their failure to keep their workers safe on the factory floor.
4 Vehicles Recalled Over Heated Windshield Wiper Fluid
Not all General Motors’ recalls have been as widespread or as controversial as the one involving the faulty ignition switch, but there have been several other occasions when flaws have put drivers in danger. The company had to recall cars with its heated windshield wiper fluid system, as they had a tendency to overheat and catch fire!
3 GM Failed To Recognize The Danger Of Side-Mounted Gas Tanks
More seriously, a number of General Motors trucks which had been fitted with side-mounted gas tanks were found to pose a real danger in the event of an accident, when they could catch fire very easily. The company refused to accept the problem, which resulted in this style of gas tank being used in 10 million trucks.
2 And Faced A Series Of Lawsuits As A Result
As a result of their refusal to deal with the issue and recall the affected trucks, the company ended up facing a series of very expensive lawsuits as a result of fatal accidents which had been caused by the side-mounted gas tanks. An Atlanta jury awarded one grieving family $105 million after they found that the company had been negligent.
1 Issues With Racial Discrimination
The company has been plagued by allegations of racial discrimination, from evidence which showed that their dealerships had been charging black customers higher rates of interest on their car loans to accusations that racist graffiti had appeared at a General Motors’ factory located in Toledo, Ohio as recently as 2017.
Sources: Auto News, INC, LA Times, The Balance