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GM Rejected Safer Ignition Switch in 2001

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Tina Robinson3 years ago

A joint letter sent to General Motors on Wednesday from Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) and Joan Claybrook, former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) alleges the car maker rejected a safer ignition switch design in 2001. That rejected design was the same one later implemented quietly in 2006, according to an NBC News report.

Was Cost a Factor?

The letter sent Wednesday asserts, “We now know, from Engineering Drawings and Documents submitted to the U.S. Congress by General Motors, the company created two competing designs for the ignition switch on the 2003 Saturn Ion and later models… But GM chose to use the ignition switch that would fail as your customers were driving innocently on the highway.”

Ditlow, in an interview with NBC, said the only conclusion he could make based on his years of experience was that cost was the factor behind opting for the shorter, faulty switches. When asked about the letter, GM spokesman Jim Cain deferred once again to the ongoing investigation being conducted by former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas.

Documents Made Public

The new allegations stem from the roughly 700 pages of documents released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Friday last week. The new information had not been previously disclosed by GM.

The documents released paint a grim picture. At the center of the controversy is a small part – the switch detent plunger – that provides torque resistance for the ignition switches. In 2001, GM opted to implement a smaller part despite the fact that it failed to meet the company’s own torque specifications. In 2006, the longer plunger was approved but the new switches were never given a new part number, and neither NHTSA nor car owners were told of the change. 

That small but important detail made it nearly impossible for NHTSA or GM to figure out why airbags failed to deploy only in older models.

Since February, nearly 2.6 million vehicles have been recalled due to the defective ignition switches. GM has admitted to at least 13 deaths associated with the defect. CEO Mary Barra testified earlier this month in two congressional hearings seeking answers as to why it took the automaker over a decade to recall the vehicles. Many, including Ditlow, have been highly critical of GM’s response.

In Ditlow’s recent letter to GM, he notes the new documents “paint a tragic picture of the cost culture and cover up at General Motors.”


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