James Roche, who led General Motors when the federal government first imposed serious regulations on the industry, died June 6 in Belleair, Fla. He was 97.
Roche was GM's chairman and CEO from 1967 to 1971. He was company president from 1965 to 1967.
By the time Roche retired, automakers were facing a changed landscape. In their early years, automotive companies were praised for products that gave Americans new freedom and mobility. But in the late 1960s, the mood changed to dissatisfaction with the car.
The shift crystallized around an obscure corporate critic, Ralph Nader, whose book, Unsafe at Any Speed, sharply criticized the Chevrolet Corvair compact.
Nader might have remained obscure had not GM hired detectives to tail him in 1966, hoping to find a way to discredit the newfound nemesis. After GM's surveillance was discovered, Roche was summoned before a congressional committee, where he apologized.
Although Roche, as GM's president, made the public apology, he had not known of the effort to spy on Nader. He later said the day of the apology was the worst of his life.
GM paid Nader $425,000 to settle an invasion of privacy lawsuit, helping to fund his efforts. But the publicity Nader received was a windfall to build public sentiment for safety regulations.