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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Those Are Strong Words for a GM Executive

The General Motors Chairman, Thomas A. Mur­phy, waxed angry before his New York business audience a few days ago. He attacked Washington rumors that the Carter Administration may pro­pose a tax on big, gas-guzzling automobiles as “one of the most simplistic, irresponsible and short-sighted ideas ever conceived” with effects that “the hip shooting marketeers of the Potomac probably didn’t consider.” These are strong words for a GM executive. His­torically, GM has exuded dullness and blandness in the carefully modulated statements issued by its officials. The public tends to be less inquiring of a dull company and more curious about hot-headed corporate rhetoric and behavior.

Nowadays, however, GM’s top brass is feeling the heady winds of a record sales year, the legacy of eight years of Nixon-Ford regulatory permis­siveness, and the faithful support of United Auto Worker leader Leonard Woodcock for the compa­ny’s anti-safety and pollution control positions.

BUT BEHIND the sound of GM’s ringing cash register, now grossing an average of over $4 mil­lion an hour, are signs that GM is losing touch with even knowing about its responsibilities. With the Republican honeymoon in Washington over, Car­ter’s new officials are finding a host of GM derelic­tions which invite law enforcement.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is evaluating GM’s recent admission of practices that range, in the Wall Street Journal’s words, “from possibly illegal political contributions to im­proper overseas payments.”

The Internal Revenue Service is investigating GM for possible criminal tax fraud. The company is alleged to have made improper writeoffs of a half billion dollars, leading to a suspected under­statement of income and taxes during the past several years.

The Environmental Protection Agency has con­firmed widespread violations of auto pollution con­trol durability standards by GM (and other auto firms) that make a tragic mockery out of Mr. Mur­phy’s ridiculous assertion, to wit: “Actually, auto emissions have been so reduced that if every car on the road was (sic) a 1977 model, automobile air pollution would be virtually eliminated as a na­tional problem.”

Not only are controls over harmful nitrogen oxides all but non-existent, but the devices to con­trol carbon monoxides and hydrocarbons fail or deteriorate long before their 50,000 miles of re­quired performance.

THE NIXON-FORD imposed moratorium on auto safety progress is over. It will be replaced by a greater adherence to the broad enforcement of the life-saving auto safety laws. GM opposition to automatic restraint systems on cars is being chal­lenged by no less than two former top GM execu­tives, Edward Cole and John DeLorean. It is likely that the Department of Transportation will soon reverse the Ford Administration and mandate these automatic systems for new cars.

The UAW leadership will pass to the hands of Douglas Fraser this summer. Mr. Fraser is ex­pected to be a strong advocate of both worker and consumer interests. This change is policy would be a reversal of Mi. Woodcock’s lobbying at the side of GM which has puzzled many UAW staff mem­bers.

None of those changes in trends seems to be de­flating GM’s current arrogance. Few happenings illustrate this point better than the unfolding flap over Olds mobiles sold with Chevrolet engines.

Tens of thousands of consumers who unknow­ingly bought Olds with Chevy engines are now being mistakenly told by GM that the engines are interchangeable in quality and value. But the price to consumers of an Olds and a Chevrolet are not interchangeable.

Besides having been deceived, Olds’ owners are finding out more details about the Great Engine Switch. According to official fuel economy guides, the Olds with Chevy engines get one to two miles per gallon (mpg) less. This difference results in an increase to the consumer of over $500 over the 1 car’s life.

In addition, motorists have learned that Olds dealers tell them they can’t supply parts or serv­ices for these Chevy engines. Nor are Olds manu­als fully applicable to transplanted Chevy engines.

One defrauded consumer, L.A. Wilson of Pitts­burgh, was caught, along with millions of other purchasers, by one of GM’s many tricky, unan­nounced midyear price increases. This one, switched “steel belted radial tires” from standard equipment at $86 in extra cost. Mr. Wilson ex­pressed his frustration with GM by remarking, “I can sweep back the Atlantic Ocean with a broom easier than I can move GM “

GM isn’t budging yet. The company refuses to replace the cars or even refund the price differ­ence between engines. Several state attorneys general are suing GM for fraud, the Federal Trade Commission is investigating, and outraged motor­ists are filing lawsuits themselves. The Center for Auto Safety, 1223 DuPont Circle Bldg., Wash., D.C. 20036, believes there is similar widespread sneak­ing of Chevrolet engines into Pontiacs and Burks. The Center’s staff wants to receive your com­plaints about this engine switching and will provide you with details.