For the most part, the only difference between a spreadsheet and a "database" is the way you are looking at the data.
Physically, a database table and a spreadsheet table are no different from one another. They can be identical. It comes down to purpose.
Spreadsheets are for crunching numeric data and achieving some kind of output.
Databases are for organizing data to make it easier to relate it to other data and filter specific data.
Though spreadsheets can do lookups and Database reports can calculate figures, these tasks are not accomplished nearly as well as they are in the other program.
I used both when putting together my report on the air bag recall. All the data I gathered I put into a database then ran queries to pull out the specific data I was looking for. I could then export that to Excel to run calculations and produce the graphs and comparisons I put in the report. I could have done it in one or the other, but it was easier to just separate the duties.
Coming back round to the topic though, I was only getting on to the engineer about that comparison. LOL I'd be more interested in helping him find his interest in this again to complete the "database".
EDIT: I just got to thinking about this, If we could get a table from @davhamm
that included the vin for each vehicle we could use that as a unique key field and combine his data with the data we have provided to NHTSA by GM for the recall into one table in about 10 seconds using a simple join query in a database. We'd only need vin and then whatever extra data beyond build date, warranty date, and the info we can gleam from the vin such as SE editions, trans type, and Redline/GXP/Base/Sky/Solstice...
I've ran queries for SE editions just so I can quickly pull that data.