GM engineer knew about switch's mechanical problems
DETROIT — General Motors' deadly ignition switch flaws emerged from an effort to better its cars.
As the company began developing new small cars in the late 1990s, it listened to customers who complained about “cheap feeling” switches that required too much effort to turn. GM set about making switches that would work more smoothly, a GM switch engineer testified in a lawsuit deposition in 2013.
The switches, though, were too loose, touching off events that led to at least 13 deaths, more than 50 crashes and a raft of legal trouble for the automaker.
Former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas, hired by GM in March to investigate the switch problems, told a congressional subcommittee last month that GM wanted each small-car ignition to “feel like it was a European sports car or something.” After years of lagging behind the Japanese, GM was eager to make better, more competitive small cars.
As it turned out, switches in models such as the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion can unexpectedly slip from “run” to “accessory,” causing engines to stall. That shuts off the power steering, making cars harder to control, and disables air bags in crashes. GM says the problem has caused at least 13 deaths, but some members of Congress put the death toll near 100.
The problem led GM to recall 2.6 million small cars in February and forced the company to admit it knew about the switch troubles for more than a decade before taking action. It has touched off federal investigations and prodded GM to review other safety issues, leading to 54 recalls this year covering 29 million vehicles.
The Associated Press traced the history of the problem using Valukas' report, as well as a deposition of GM switch engineer Ray DeGiorgio that was released by a House subcommittee. The deposition was also released by lawyers suing GM, but DeGiorgio's comments were redacted in that version.
In a wrongful death case in Georgia, DeGiorgio testified that he started out trying to make the switches easier to turn. But he was consumed by electrical issues in the switch.
When the switch supplier, Delphi, pointed out tests showing the switches turned too easily, DeGiorgio told Delphi not to change them because he was concerned mechanical alterations would harm the switch's electrical performance, Valukas wrote.
Delphi spokeswoman Claudia Tapia said the company isn't commenting on the details of GM's recall.
In the end, DeGiorgio approved switches that were far below GM's specifications for the force required to turn them. The result was a smooth-turning key, but also one that could slip out of position. Several years later, DeGiorgio signed off on a design change that fixed the problem, but he didn't change the part number, which stymied later attempts to figure out what was wrong with the cars.
DeGiorgio was one of 15 employees dismissed by the company last month because of the recalls.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Coal miner Alpha Natural Resources files for bankruptcy
- Shell shovels millions into proposed Beaver County plant site
- FirstEnergy to build coal waste processing facility in Beaver County
- Extended oil slump takes toll
- Bond funds hold onto cash
- Muni bond funds stressed
- Off-duty but on call: Suits seek overtime
- Cost-cutting at Kraft Heinz extends to refrigerator
- Companies hand out perks, benefits instead of pay raises
- $2-per-gallon gas expected by year’s end, but not in Western Pa.
- When it comes to home ownership, Hispanics finding locked doors