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GM Documents Show Engineers’ Role in Delayed Recall

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Tina Robinson3 years ago

Sen. Fred Upton (R-Mi) said over 200,000 pages of General Motors documents released on Friday revealed “failures within the system,” and noted that it would take awhile for lawmakers to sort through everything. Already though, documents shed light on some of the details including the engineers involved in the automaker’s delayed handling of the ignition switch recall.

“Smoking Gun” Memo

An article from Forbes called it the “smoking gun” memo. A memo and fax cover sheet dated May 27, 2006 from Delphi Automotive says that GM supported the part redesign and gave approval to do so. It also shows that engineer Ray DeGiorgio approved the change without changing the part number. The failure to change the part number made it difficult for GM and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to figure out why airbags in older models of Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion were failing to deploy.

GM has admitted knowing about problems with the ignition switches since at least 2002, but other documents from 2005 show that proposed fixes were rejected due to cost and lead times. GM approved the switches in 2002, but Delphi, the part manufacturer, testified that the switches failed to meet the automaker’s minimum torque specifications.

Documents show that a 2005 field test of the 2005 Cobalt detected the ignition switch problem. An e-mail sent from senior GM engineer Gary Altman, who was the manager of the Cobalt and Ion, noted the ignition “can be keyed off with knee while driving.”

Other documents show Altman was the engineer who ultimately rejected proposed ignition switch fixes, citing costs. Altman also testified to that fact in 2013.

Multiple sources have reported that Ray DeGiorgio and Gary Altman are the two engineers GM placed on paid leave last week.

GM Slow to Act

Other e-mails from NHTSA to GM highlight some of the mounting tension between the two parties. Frank Borris, head of the Office of Defect Investigation, said in a July 2013 e-mail, “The general perception is that GM is slow to communicate, slow to act, and, at times, requires additional effort of ODI that we do not feel is necessary with some of your peers.”

A study completed by Automotive News last month strongly suggested that many of the 13 deaths linked to the ignition switch recall might have been prevented if a recall had been conducted simultaneously when the part was redesigned in 2006.

GM’s own estimates show the cost of the recall would have been dramatically less – around $37.7 million compared to the expected $1.3 billion now – had it been conducted when the defect was first detected. 


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