Proxy Debate

I greatly appreciate this opportunity to speak to the Jant Advisory Committee of MIT, which represents all segments of the university community. I am also delighted that we are engaging today in an open public debate. The theme of the Campaign to Make GM Responsible is that the decisions of major private institutions should reflect the views of all their constituents and should be made in a more open manner. It is gratifying to see that MIT. at least, is moving in this direction.

I'd like to just answer at the beginning one charge that the General Motors representatives made and that is that we are harassing them. I suppose the answer lies in the definition of the question. One could say that Martin Luther King harassed Bull Cinnor or Eugene McCarthy harassed I?ndon Johnson. If that is the kind of harassment they have in mind, we're ?oing to continue it.

At the outset I should like to clear up one misconception about Campaign GM. Our campaign is not under the direction of Ralph Nader. Ralph helped plan the campaign in its early stages and speaks in support of us on numerous occasions. But ever since February 7, 1970, when Campaign GM was launched, Ralph has played no role in formulating its decisions, its statements or its strategies.

We are campaigning to Make GM Responsible. Obviously, then, we believe that GM is now behaving irresponsibly. And the record bears us out.

Pollution Control

Let us look first at the question of air pollution. It has been estimated that GM vehicles and plants are responsible for 35 per cent of the nation's air pollution by tonnage. Yet for years, GM refused even to acknowledge that the automobile and air pollution were related. It was only due to the research and legislative efforts of the government, and particularly the state of California, that GM began to combat pollution.

This issue was already raised by GM. You saw the slides and the charts. Everything was California models first and the rest of the nation afterwards. Why is that?

Well, it is true that the problem in California was somewhat worse but certainly there were severe problems throughout the nation, particularly in New York. Why weren't controls applied to New York models until years later? The answer is quite simple. GM wasn't responding to a public need, it was responding to legislation requiring it to act.

No Breakthrough

In addition, none of those devices they put on involved a new scientific breakthrough. It was just a question of a little more money. They were old processes, old devices that could have been put on years before. There was no great change in the state of the auto that allowed them to put these on. It was a question of a little more money and GM wasn't ready to spend it until they were finally forced to.

And it is significant that even today, when GM recognizes the problem and purports to be concerned about it, that General Motors is spending only 15 million a year on anti-pollution research, while it is spending $250 million a year on advertising.

Misleading Accounts

Instead of action, GM provides misleading accounts of what it has accomplished. In its Annual Report, and in the recent full-page ads it took out in the Times, GM states that its

1970 cars, as equipped for California use, reduced hydrocarbon emissions by 80 per cent. But this figure is based on tests made on finely tuned cars which were just off the assembly line.

What General Motors did not say is that the Department of Health, Education and Welfare tests demonstrate that once the 1970 cars have been on the road a while as many as four-fifths of them fail to meet the standards which GM claims to have met. This is an example of GM's commitment to honesty and to pollution control. We have asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to require GM to recall this misleading statement about pollution control efforts. And if SEC does not take action, we intend to appeal to the courts.

GM's record in automobile safety is equally poor. Fifty-five thousand Americans die in automobile accidents each year, more than have died in the entire Vietnam war. GM has done little to prevent this bloodletting. It delayed for years before installing seat belts and collapsible steering wheels. Nor does it appear interested in constructing a truly crash-proof car.

In 1963, a GM safety engineer wrote that it was impossible to protect against injury in collisions at 30 miles per hour. Now, just seven years later, the National Highway Safety Bureau has already tested successfully a prototype vehicle that can withstand impacts at 47 miles per hour, without injury to passengers wearing a normal should-erbelt. I think it is a disgrace and a tragedy that this prototype had to be developed by the Federal Government rather than by the automobile industry.

Another aspect of the auto safety picture is the high cost in property damage of even very minor accidents. I am sure that many of you are acutely and embarrassingly aware of this problem. Some of you probably know without reading the study of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that a collision at five miles per hour in a Chevy Impala can cost almost $200 to repair. This is because General Motors, and the other auto manufacturers, are more concerned with ornamentation than low repair costs.

Racial Disaster

General Motors' record in the field of racial justice is a disaster. There are 13,000 GM dealers in this country. Seven, only seven, are black. It was not until 1967 that the first black graduated from the 3,000-man class of the General Motors Institute, which trains many of the future executives of the company. And even in blue-collar employment. GM has consistently lagged behind Ford and Chrysler.