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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

GM Ordered to Pay $49,000 for Broken Blazer




A Rostov court has ordered a General Motors subsidiary to pay nearly $50,000 in damages to a local man after the cylinder block in his 1997 Chevrolet Blazer exploded as he crossed a railroad track last July.


When the car came to a dead stop on the tracks, Rostislav Rychanov said he calmly called on passers-by to help him push the car off the track and faxed a GM service center with a request to replace the engine.


But when GM's Russian subsidiary, YelAZ GM, which assembled the Brazilian-made cars in Tatarstan until this year, refused to replace his engine and blamed the explosion on owner abuse, Rychanov got mad - and went looking for justice.


Rychanov, who identifies himself as a journalist in the employ of "special information services," says his lawsuit is the latest episode in the battle of the little guy against omnipotent, money-hungry multinational corporations.


He has vowed to do for this model of the Chevy Blazer what American consumer crusader Ralph Nader did for Chevrolet's infamous 1960s Corvair. That car was discredited by Nader's revelations that GM, with an eye to cost cutting, was wittingly skimping on parts required to correct a design flaw that could cause the cars to skid violently and roll over.


"This is not an isolated story," Rychanov, 42, said in a telephone interview last week from Rostov, a city in southern Russia. "If you look at the history of GM, it is a precise repetition of what has happened before."


After more than a year of court proceedings during which Rychanov claims the company spied on him and organized a slander campaign against him, a Rostov court last week ordered the General Motors subsidiary to pay up.


So far, Rychanov has been awarded 1.3 million rubles, or almost $49,000, in damages, including a return of the $25,000 he paid for the car at a Rostov car market and 530,000 rubles in moral damages.


He stands to receive more in further hearings, said Alexander Beletsky, head of the legal department at the Rostov Union for Defense of Consumer Rights, who represented Rychanov in the case.


Furious GM YelAZ executives said the suit was an attempt to "run a racket" and vowed to appeal. The company is also planning a countersuit against Rychanov for damaging the GM's business reputation with "certain statements" made in court "which I would not like to repeat," GM spokesman Dmitry Choulga said.


Rychanov says he bought the car from a dealer at a market - three months after it left the authorized dealer's lot, according to GM.


GM executives - and a panel of federal experts - say the engine was damaged by low octane gasoline with a large quantity of dangerous additives that raised the temperature in the cylinder block and caused the fuel mix to violently self-combust. And thus, they say, the company is not at fault.


The court has yet to explain the motive for its decision, and has only announced that it came down in favor of Rychanov, Beletsky said. A statement on the court's motivation is expected later this week.


But Beletsky said the court agrees with Rychanov - that the Blazer suffered a design flaw. Rychanov identified it as a weak rocker arm.


"The engine just flies apart," Rychanov said. "You get the impression a bomb fell on it."


Nor, he said, was the Blazer rugged enough for him. He said he bought it under the impression the rear-wheel drive vehicle was an off-road vehicle. In addition, he said the car got lower gas mileage than advertised.


GM defends the quality of the Blazer and says the company has heard no complaints from other consumers. Of the 1,606 sold, 14 have had their engines replaced, Choulga said.


"We think Rychanov made a conscious choice," he said. "If he did not take into account what he was doing, that is a matter for other institutions."


Rychanov says this is more than a fight over one car. In his zeal, he refused GM's offer to settle, made last February.


"When they offered me $45,000 for my silence, I did not take the ultimatum. I said, let GM recognize their guilt," he said.


"They want to say I'm an idiot and I don't know how to drive. I've been behind the wheel for 20 years and I have not broken one car."


Rychanov said he originally sought about $420,000 in damages.


"They tried to put the blame on me. That insults me - and they held me up as an extorter and God knows what else," he said. "Is this damage? I haven't had a vacation in over two years, for two years I could only talk about this case. I've become repulsive to myself."