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Missing the point on Cobalt

March 29, 2014 - Paul Giannamore
In 2005, my daughter bought a shiny new Chevy Cobalt coupe with sunroof, the perfect first car runabout for a kid heading out on her own.

A couple of years later, the car started stalling intermittently. Mechanics couldn’t quite determine the problem. And now, the darned thing stalls all the time, complete with my granddaughter in her child seat strapped in the back, sometimes at inopportune times like when making a left turn across traffic. The issue wobbled through the car’s warranty period and after the warranty, nobody was lifting a finger to pay for the design default, which we didn’t know officially was a design default. It was my kid’s responsibility to pay, according to GM.

Now, it’s part of the recall, and it’s parked awaiting parts.

The telling thing is my daughter went through much of what’s in this paragraph from C&D’s blog today, written by Clifford Atiyeh:

“Dealers, even after receiving the technical service bulletin for a rubber key insert in December 2005, had no consistent message from GM on how to handle the repairs. After customers brought in their cars due to repeated stalling, dealers tried all sorts of fixes to no avail, replacing throttle bodies, reflashing the ECU software, replacing the ignition-system computer, and flushing fuel injectors. In many cases, the dealers blamed the gasoline itself or gave up entirely, leading GM to repurchase multiple vehicles but leaving most owners in limbo. One corporate response to a dealer in September 2005 said the switch’s low torque was a “known vehicle concern” and pleaded for the customer to be “patient in waiting for a possible solution.” Many of the engine-stalling complaints GM received were for cars with less than 10,000 miles.”

But, like all things in America, the whole It’s-Obama’s-Fault, It’s-Your-Fault-Because-You-Pick-On-The-President battles are raging.

So it is with anger that I read the blowhard reactions to a Car and Driver magazine blog about what the GM engineers knew and when they knew it. Turns out some of the engineers leading the Cobalt program before the car’s debut knew of the stalling problem but figured folks could just pull to the curb, so they weren’t concerned about releasing the car to the public.

The blowhards on the C&D boards agreed. From the reactions, one could assume every one of these folks apparently own Cobalts and went through a stall. Doubtful. Just the usual macho Internet speculation, peppered with one idiot who ranted about American cars being junk and how GM should have been allowed to fail, along with others delivering GM’s defense as a bunch of “how comes” such as: How come you press guys didn’t pick on Toyota when they had their unintended acceeration problems? Or: How come you press guys don’t pick on Honda for airbag problems?

Well, we DO run stories. What you folks choose to do with them in your misaligned to the left or misaligned to the right mind is your business.

For instance, seems like the Volt that caught fire several years ago, IN A JUNKYARD long after a crash test, got way too much publicity. After all, the Volt, which by the way was designed and prototyped in the Dubya Bush era, had somehow become an Obamamobile. I ran those stories in our newspaper, biting my gearhead lip every day.

Or the Tesla car fires, an amazing electric techie wonder of a car, got blasted by the political luddites as some kind of futuristic Obamamobile failure. Turns out a little more shielding under the battery takes care of the problem, the federal probe is over and, did we mention that unlike the Cobalt, the Tesla saved occupants of the few vehicles that did encounter the battery puncture situation?

Here’s the thing. My daughter weighs all of about 100 pounds if she’s eaten a couple of ravioli, strong like a tiny bull, but not quite capable of dealing with a car that might suddenly shut off, its electric power steering and its brake booster failing ,while the car is going down something steep like Pennsylvania Avenue hill in Weirton.

Even if she didn’t panic and managed to somehow push the brakes enough to get that little sucker to stop, even if she managed to somehow steer, without the electric steering booster, even if she and my granddaughter managed to escape injury, WHY SHOULD SHE HAVE TO GO THROUGH THAT?

She reasonably bought a car in 2005. It’s 10 years old now, but it’s been a failing piece of junk for about five years.

My 10-year-old PT Cruiser doesn’t stall intermittently. It rattles, bangs, shakes and drives like an old car. My wife drove a Plymouth Acclaim to 190,000 miles in 17 years, no intermittent stalling or failures that might endanger her on a freeway.

Anyone see a cause to cast a vote for president in there? I don’t. I see a cause for somebody in corporate America to make this right.

Look. Hyundai paid owners of Elantras for the fuel they wouldn’t save over the life of the car when it became apparent the 40 mpg rating a couple years ago was unattainable. GM obfuscated releasing to the public cars that intermittently choose not to run.

That’s the issue, not whether 100-pound mommies can pull to the curb safely or if it’s Obama’s fault.


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