On May 22, General Motors announced a recall of 238,360 vehicles in Brazil that were manufactured between October 2013 and April 2014. The company says it will replace the fuel filter in order to prevent leakages that could lead to a fire.
The announcement came days after Agencia Publica reporter Moriti Neto revealed the tragic explosions of several cars of the model Vectra produced between 1996 and 1999. An association of victims mapped 59 cases of cars that exploded in the following decade in 10 states in Brazil –- half of them without an apparent outer cause. The explosions led to at least five deaths and five victims were severely injured. But contrary to the company's recent policy in the U.S., the indemnifications are much lower than those paid by (or pledged to) U.S. citizens.
Some are extremely tragic stories, such as what happened to Lucineia Rodrigues dos Santos Silva, a middle-aged woman whose eyes still water when she remembers July 28, 2008, when her Silver 1997 Vectra from Chevrolet -– an associated brand in Brazil –- exploded after she came back from shopping in a small town in the mid-Western state of Mato Grosso do Sul. Lucineia and her 6-year-old son had just left the car parked in the garage when she heard the blow. Her 6-month-old daughter was still in the car as Lucineia fought the flames and tried to save her baby. Small Raissa barely survived and spent several days in intensive care before caving into the burns. Lucineia, in shock, tried to receive compensation for her loss, but was met with the Kafkian Brazilian justice system that seldom stands for small men and women. Almost five years after filing the lawsuit, not even one audition has taken place.
The worst blow came when the company rejected the report from the criminal division of the civil police. The report claimed that the explosion was caused by a fire in the rear of the car caused by an electrical defect, but GM in Brazil demanded a new report. However, three years later, no report was finalized. The reason is quite jaw-dropping: the car simply disappeared from the parking lot where it was taken by policemen three years before. GM's lawyers therefore say that no definite conclusions can be made without proof, despite the first report.
“As a mom, I felt guilty,” Lucineia said when when she relayed her story for the first time to reporter Moriti Neto.
Unfortunately, Lucineia is not alone. A group of victims and family of victims found 59 explosions. In addition, they found that GM had issued an internal alert in 1998 to its retailers, warning of a defect in the fuel pump harness. Consumer organizations claim this is evidence that GM knew of the problem and could have prevented the explosions.
However, 16 years on, no recall was made on the Vectra models. The recent recall –- announced just days after the Agencia Publica story was published -– may show that GM is actively trying to change its slack no-recall culture. Or else, it may show that GM has decided to dismiss the problems of the past –- avoiding paying for compensations –- and is moving on.