The 2005 Cobalt's ignition-switch issues—which, according to one watchdog, contributed to hundreds of deaths—apparently came as no surprise to General Motors. The company released the cars despite its awareness of the problem, the Wall Street Journal reports, with engineers rationalizing that even if the car stalled, drivers could still coast their way to safety. Asked in a deposition last year if GM had made "a business decision not to fix this problem," exec Gary Altman acknowledged that "that is what happened, yes."
Altman argued that drivers weren't in danger: "We've sold vehicles for many, many years without power assist and the car was maneuverable and controllable." At a May 2009 GM engineers meeting, the problem was confirmed, the New York Times reports. Yet when victims' families raised concerns, the company brushed them aside or reached settlements to ensure confidentiality. In one case, GM demanded legal fees be reimbursed unless a suit was dropped. CEO Mary Barra says the vehicles are "safe to drive" as long as drivers use "just the ring with the key," rather than a heavy keychain, the Journal notes. She says she asked engineers: "Would you let your wife drive this car? And they said yes."