GM and Faulty Switches

September 20, 2015

GM Ignores Knowledge of Safety Concerns

According to court documents filed Thursday, GM knew as early as 2005 that the switches were prone to moving to the “accessory” or “off” position while the cars were underway. And by the spring of 2012, GM personnel knew that the defect presented a safety hazard.

In 2006, the Justice Department found, a GM engineer directed that the defective switches no longer be used, but “nothing was done at this time to remedy the cars equipped with the defective switch that were already on the road.” GM did not correct its earlier assurance that the switch posed no safety hazard, and the company did not issue a recall.

GM even rejected a simple improvement to the head of the ignition key “that would have significantly reduced unexpected shutoffs at a price of less than a dollar a car,” the Justice Department said.

Instead of informing safety regulators, as federal law requires, the company stalled, fearing a blow to its business, and did not recall affected cars until February 2014.

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GM’s Legal Department Settled Related Cases

For over a decade, GM’s legal department quietly worked to contain the damage of defective ignition switches. On Capitol Hill Thursday the man who has overseen GM’s legal team will be asked to explain why his staff settled cases involving a faulty part but never brought the issue to senior management for further investigation. Michael Millikin, GM’s General Counsel, will testify before the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection on how the automaker handled lawsuits involving the faulty part. In many cases, GM reached settlements that were sealed. Keeping settlements sealed is a common tactic in corporate America, but with GM failing to disclose defective ignition switches, many are asking if the automaker’s legal team contributed to a cover up.

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GM dismantles the quality program

GM deliberately dismantled a global quality and safety program in the late 1990s, reflecting a culture of “willful ignorance” that likely guided the automaker’s response to ignition switch failures and other problems during the past decade, a former company quality auditor told NBC News.

The auditor, William J. McAleer, said in an interview that he ran GM’s Global Delivery Survey program from 1985 to 1998, dispatching teams of GM personnel, including managers, to conduct checks on finished vehicles delivered from GM’s assembly plants.

“We would check them in rail yards around the country, and see what the level of quality was on them,” McAleer said.

McAleer, a career GM employee who began as an assembly line worker in 1968, said GM forced him out of his position after the audit program began identifying and investigating serious technical problems in vehicles and conducting “root cause analyses” to determine why problems had occurred.

“We began to find defects that would threaten the safety of the [vehicle] owner,” McAleer said. “And these were being shipped, apparently unknowingly, by our assembly plants to the public.”

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Was it just the consequence of a single employee or a cover-up?

The GM engineer who approved production of a faulty ignition switch implicated in at least 13 deaths was the only person within the company who knew prior to 2013 that the part did not meet manufacturing specifications, according to an internal report released on Thursday.

The engineer spent so much time dealing with the part’s technical issues that he referred to it in a 2002 memo as “the switch from hell,” according to the report…

5 fired, 5 others disciplined

GM CEO Mary Barra told employees at a town hall meeting earlier Thursday that 15 GM employees had been fired and five others disciplined as a result of the review. She did not identify the fired employees, but sources within the company told NBC News that DeGiorgio, program engineering manager Gary Altman, and safety lawyer William Kemp were among them.

Barra also said that the internal review found no evidence of a cover-up. Rather, she said, it found a pattern of “misconduct or incompetence” that prevented company officials from linking the faulty ignition switch sooner to deadly crashes that occurred when the cars suddenly stalled on the road.

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Should the Chief Engineer Be Aware?

A GM engineer who once reported to CEO Mary Barra and is now a vice president at the company was involved in a debate in 2005 over how to fix the ignition problem that led to the recall of millions of vehicles, company documents show.

While attention has previously focused on Ray DeGiorgio, the engineer who secretly authorized changes to a faulty ignition switch now linked to at least 13 deaths, the internal documents show that Doug Parks, GM’s vehicle chief engineer for the Chevy Cobalt at the time, was involved in an email exchange about how to fix inadvertent shut-offs of the vehicles — caused by the ignition switch being bumped out of the “run” position.