GM Paper Trail Shows Plenty of Talk But Little Action On Flawed Ignition Switch

Apr 11 2014, 5:44pm CDT | by

House investigators on Friday released more than 200,000 pages of internal General Motors emails and other documents detailing years of discussions inside the company over what to do about a troublesome ignition switch in its small cars that has since been blamed for the deaths of at least 13 people.

The documents are part of an investigation by the House Energy and Commerce Committee into why it took the automaker more than a decade to disclose the problem. In recent weeks, GM has ordered a recall of Chevrolet Cobalts and other older models in which the key could slip out of the on position if jostled, leading to a loss of power and deactivating the airbags. Similar investigations of the company’s responses are under way by a Senate committee, the Justice Department and regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Of particular interest was an email sent in 2011 to GM chief executive Mary Barra, who was then head of product development, about a widening government investigation into steering problems with 2004-2007 Saturn Ion sedans, which are some of the same cars being recalled for the ignition problem. Government investigators believed the Ion should have been included in a recall of Chevrolet Cobalts and Pontiac G5s for the steering issue. “During the initial Cobalt case, the Ion data did not justify being included,” an executive, Terry Woychowski, wrote to Barra. “This situation has been evolving. We will meet and understand the latest data.”

The email suggests senior GM executives are kept in the loop on decisions about whether to recall or not recall vehicles, and raises questions about Barra’s assertion that she didn’t learn about the ignition switch problem until late December 2013.

Among other documents released Friday was a series of emails from January 2006 in which GM Engineer Ray DeGiorgio discusses a new switch design with a counterpart at Delphi, which made the switch. DeGiorgio was suspended Thursday by GM along with another engineer involved in the development of the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt. When the part was redesigned, engineers did not assign a new part number, a violation of common engineering practice.

 
 

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