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GM To Settle Criminal Case Involving Deadly Ignition Switches


General Motors is looking to end the long saga of its recall of ignition switches. As first reported last night by The Wall Street Journal, GM will pay a $900 million fine for failing to disclose a defect in ignition switches. GM knew about the problem for more than a decade. At least 124 deaths are attributed to faulty switches. The deal apparently means individual GM executives will not be prosecuted. It's the latest but not the largest fine paid by the auto industry, which has ordered millions of recalls under greater government scrutiny. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports from Los Angeles.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Whether a car company gets it right can be determined by how they launch a new car or how they deal with a recall. Now I just ducked out of a car launch to talk about one of the largest recalls in history. General Motors has been under investigation since it was revealed that faulty ignition switches could cause millions of vehicles to stall. A hundred and twenty-four deaths have been attributed to the defect, and this defect has had ripple effects throughout the industry. I'm joined here by Karl Brauer of Kelley Blue Book. How does such a high-profile recall change the way the car industry does business?

KARL BRAUER: What we're seeing now is much greater scrutiny by the government. It used to be that it was pretty lax. Car companies could get away with a lot, whether it was even issuing a recall or whether it was following up and, you know, executing on the recall to get the vehicles addressed. And the government now is much more focused. They're making follow-ups to get cars in and make sure they're addressed.

GLINTON: But these rules have been in place for a long time. So what happens now if a car company doesn't, like, follow the letter of law?

BRAUER: They now face very hefty fines, fines that actually impact their bottom line. That's what's happened to Fiat Chrysler. That's what's happened to GM. That's what's happened to Toyota. They now know that there's a big price to pay if they don't deal with these recalls properly.

GLINTON: Are people paying attention?

BRAUER: You know, what's interesting, Sonari, is that I think the average consumer is still not really focused on recalls. That's why they're so tough to get addressed because a lot of consumers receive the notices, and they don't do anything about it. And I think it's been decided by the government, mostly, that the car companies have to try harder to get the consumers to do something about it. And that's what we're seeing. We're seeing car companies - they'll actually give incentives. They'll actually pay consumers or give them other forms of incentives to bring their cars in and get the recall addressed.

GLINTON: Despite the millions of recalls and the years of controversy, there's been no sign that sales have been affected at General Motors. If there is one thing that GM and the rest of the auto industry wants to do is get the whole recall mess behind it and return to the industry's latest boom. Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.

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