Did 303 People Really Die In Recalled GM Cars?

This is The Morning Shift, our one-stop daily roundup of all the auto news that's actually important — all in one place at 9:30 AM. Or, you could spend all day waiting for other sites to parse it out to you one story at a time. Isn't your time more important?

1st Gear: How Many People Really Died?

Did 303 People Really Die In Recalled GM Cars?

The GM recall mania just went plaid with this report from the NY Times we we mentioned last night that shows 303 people died in recalled cars. Actually, way more than 303 people died in recalled cars, but why those people died is the real question.

The article itself is helpful, but what you should really read is the letter from the Center for Auto Safety, a Washington-based watchdog group.

Their claim is that an examination of the government data on airbag failures shows that 303 deaths in recalled Saturn Ions and Chevy Cobalts happened in cars that had non-rear crashes where the airbag didn't deploy.

As you'll know from our guide, what's allegedly happening here is that ignition cylinder can switch out of the run position and off while driving, thus shutting the car down and disabling the airbags.

What we don't know is why the airbags didn't deploy and the reason for those crashes. Was every case a car just turning off and crashing? Is their another underlying problem?

It's clouded data and the Center for Auto Safety has, historically (though often correctly), assumed the worst of automakers in every case.

So the 303 number is itself kind of meaningless, but what it portends is not. It's becoming clear that GM and the government likely missed a lot of information and that the death toll is way more likely to rise — how far we can only speculate — than it is to fall.

2nd Gear: Feds Insist They Couldn't Prove There Was A Problem

Did 303 People Really Die In Recalled GM Cars?

U.S. Transpo Secretary Anthony Foxx was called before a Senate committee to address these entirely reasonable concerns yesterday and his response as captured by the Freep is basically: We did look, we just didn't find anything.

"Over the last decade there were complaints related to (these) particular vehicle(s)," Foxx said, "and despite three crash investigations and other research, the data was inconclusive. It just didn't point to a formal investigation."

Why was the data inconclusive? As I noted above, since people weren't looking for this problem they may not have find it in the crashes investigated. Why they weren't looking for the problem is anyone's guess.

3rd Gear: GM Losing Three Board Members

Did 303 People Really Die In Recalled GM Cars?

Hey, totally coincidental y'all, but three of the 12 board members who aren't part of the company are jumping ship this year, including Cynthia Telles, who is leaving to serve on the Board of Airport Commissioners of the Los Angeles World Airports, which is a thing.

Nick Bunkley has the story and it doesn't seem to point to being related to what's going on with the recall, but it's hard to know for sure.

4th Gear: VW Hurt By UAW Fight

Did 303 People Really Die In Recalled GM Cars?

Talk about a no-win situation for Volkswagen. Yes, they avoided having the UAW come into their Tennessee plant and run a 'Works Council' in the mostly un-unionized automaking South, but the fallout from that continues and it's not entirely clear they wanted the UAW to lose.

Thus, three VW workers are saying that the cooperation between the union and the management was a violation of U.S. laws.

Per the WSJ:

The suit, filed in the federal district court for Eastern Tennessee, says Volkswagen allowed the union to use an office in the plant, agreed to "align" communications about the vote, organized worker meetings on company time when the UAW asked for support, and prevented managers from voicing any opinions about the election. It alleges all of those actions have value, and it asks the court to prohibit VW from providing further assistance to the UAW.

But here's the real nugget:

The legal conflict is complicating VW's decision on where to build a new sport-utility vehicle for the U.S. market. Chattanooga and a new plant in Mexico are in the running. The company doesn't want to announce a decision until the UAW issue is settled, a person familiar with the company's thinking says.

Oh Geez...

5th Gear: About That Russian Auto Industry

Did 303 People Really Die In Recalled GM Cars?

Russia seems like a perfect market for auto expansion, given it's growing wealth and dearth of good automakers. Alas, ain't nobody want to build cars in a country that's about to get hit with powerful sanctions or start a stupid war.

Karl Henkel breaks it down:

Russia's volatile economy and intermittent government financial incentives for car buyers could hamper auto industry growth. Russian auto sales this year were expected to top 3 million in new-car sales and overtake Germany as Europe's largest sales market, but forecasts have quickly headed south.

"Russia is far more volatile than most markets in the world," said Stefan Mauerer, a Moscow-based principal for the Boston Consulting Group that tracks the Russian auto market. "Its potential is kept back and not utilized because of the uncertainty about the future of the economy and a lack of competitiveness of the market."

Julia Ioffe, who seems pretty smart when it comes to Russia, has made the case that Putin cares more about power than money. We'll see how long that lasts.

Reverse: That's A Bummer

John "Jack" Mack, who co-founded what would become one of North America's largest makers of heavy-duty trucks, is killed when his car collides with a trolley in Pennsylvania on March 14, 1922.

[HISTORY]

Neutral: How Much Worse Does This Get For GM?

A body blow to Mary Barra's leadership or just a grazing?

Photo Credit: Getty Images