General Motors released the results of an internal investigation into its recall practices yesterday shortly after ending a press conference where reporters were told to refer to the yet-unreleased report. This is why.
“As a whole, from beginning to end, the story of the Cobalt is one of numerous failures leading to tragic results for many,” the 315-page report conducted by former U.S. attorney Anton Valukas said.
One of the main findings is that a conspiracy to cover up the faulty parts did not exist on a large scale within GM.
Despite that, it exposes a culture of negligence and do-nothingism that allowed millions of vehicles to be sold with faulty ignition switches that ultimately led to at least 13 deaths. The switches, which fell far from minimum torque requirements, allow keys to slide back into the “accessory” or “off” position, causing the cars to stall and therefore disabling airbags and power steering.
“Throughout the entire 11-year odyssey, there was no demonstrated sense of urgency, right to the very end,” reads the report, which identifies one specific engineer, Ray DeGiorgio, as having contributing the most to the issues. “There is no question… that DeGirogio knew he was approving an ignition switch that fell below GM’s specification.”
When coworkers began to look into the faulty switches, DeGiorgio deliberately mislead them, even signing off on an E-mail as “Ray (tired of the switch from hell) DeGiorgio.”
Others did begin to notice the pattern of non-deployment in many of GM’s small cars and the report says that in 2005,”various committees within GM considered proposed fixes, but those were rejected as too costly.”
DeGiorgio did fix the part however, but secretly. In 2006 he approved a new ignition switch for the cars that had a revised detent plunger with increased torque force, however the work order that was submitted only mentioned electrical improvements, not the changes to the spring and plunger. This new switch was actually designed in 2001, which means that the change was a no-cost option for GM. DeGiorgio also didn’t change the part number, making the flaw difficult if not impossible to identify.
It wasn’t all DeGiorgio however. Valukas found that once the problem was more widespread, GM’s engineers “made a basic mistake,” and didn’t understand the relationship between the failing switch, the car stalling and the airbags not deploying. The stalling issues were well known to GM, and a technical service bulletin was issued to dealers in 2005 describing the “potential for the driver to inadvertently turn off the ignition due to low ignition key cylinder torque/effort.” However, the cars were ultimately deemed as safe to operate.
While the report indemnifies the current GM brass including CEO Mary Barra, saying that they didn’t know the details until after the January, 31 recall announcement, former GM CEO Rick Wagoner may have been aware of the ignition switch in 2009, although he denies it.
Since this debacle became public, GM has been taking steps to rectify its safety processes, including appointing a new chief of global vehicle safety, hiring 35 new safety investigators, initiating the ‘speak up for safety’ program and restructuring to ensure that these types of issues find their way to upper management sooner. Current CEO Mary Barra even put out a call for employees to “contact me directly,” with any information about safety issues.
In the wake of the debacle, GM fired 15 employees, at least half of which were in management positions.
This restructuring also began a chain reaction of recalls affecting 15 million vehicles worldwide since January. This won’t be the end however, as Barra told the media to expect more call backs in coming months.
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