| DETROIT/WASHINGTON, April 1
DETROIT/WASHINGTON, April 1 General Motors Co
in 2005 decided not to change an ignition switch
eventually linked to the deaths of at least 13 people because it
would have added about a dollar to the cost of each car,
according to an internal GM document provided to U.S.
The U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce released the
documents on Tuesday as lawmakers asked CEO Mary Barra why GM
failed to recall 2.6 million cars until more than a decade after
it first noticed a switch problem that could cut off engines and
disable airbags, power steering and power brakes.
Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette cited a 2005 GM
document that she said showed a cost of 57 cents per fix.
DeGette did not release the document, and Reuters was unable
to get a copy. However, Reuters obtained what appeared to be a
separate document, a series of 2005 emails between GM engineers
debating whether to make a change to the ignition switch. The
change would have cost an extra 90 cents per unit and additional
tooling costs of $400,000, one email showed. Those tooling costs
typically are amortized over several years.
Barra said she found the concept of turning down the change
because of tooling costs "very disturbing. That is not the way
we do business in the New GM."
In the email exchange, one of the engineers, John Hendler,
said his team was prepared to continue using a switch that was
made by Delphi Automotive and approved by GM, even
though Delphi told the automaker in early 2002 that the switch
did not meet GM's performance specifications.
Hendler said the cars, including the Chevrolet Cobalt and
Saturn Ion, which were recalled this year, would continue using
the old switch "until the piece cost can be eliminated or
significantly reduced," and targeted a new switch for 2009
models. Reuters was unable to contact Hendler.
Another GM executive, Lori Queen, who had responsibility for
the development of GM's small cars, responded, "I'm not sure
it's ok to wait." She did not explain herself in the email.
Queen did not return a call seeking comment. A General Motors
spokesman said the company was still investigating the recall
and would review all relevant documents.
Representatives repeatedly questioned Barra about GM's
weighing of costs even in safety situations. Barra said that was
no longer the case, and that the company since its 2009
bankruptcy was changing from a "cost culture" to one focused on
In the early 2000s, GM, like the other Detroit automakers
was under intense cost pressure, in the face of competition from
overseas rivals and a legacy of high labor costs. Those and
other financial issues eventually led to GM's 2009 bankruptcy.
GM did change the ignition switch, in 2006, but the process
did not comply with the company's own rules, documents and
Parts maker Delphi told congressional investigators last
week that the redesigned switch on the 2007 models was harder to
move out of position, but the force required to turn the switch
was "still below GM's original specifications," according to a
timeline released by the investigators.
A separate, April 26, 2006, document called a "validation
sign-off", authorized changes to the switch, including a new
spring, designed to increase the force required to move the
The document showed that the part number did not change,
when redesigned, an issue which GM said hampered its own
"It is inconceivable," Barra said, when asked about the
design change without a corresponding change in part number. "It
is not our process."
Moreover, several fields on the document marked as
"required" are left blank or with "N/A", including purchase
order number and "validation engineer".
The document has the signature of GM "lead engineer" Ray
DeGiorgio, who could not be reached for comment. In a 2013
deposition in a suit against GM, DeGiorgio had said he was
unaware of a change in the part.
A retired GM manager familiar with the automaker's
engineering and manufacturing procedures said that another
manager would have had to sign off on the part, by company
policy, given DeGiorgio's relatively low seniority. "So who
approved a design change without a part number change?"
Barra confirmed that DeGiorgio is still employed by the
company and said she has not yet heard his explanation for
signing the 2006 document.
The redesigned ignition switch was installed on 2007
Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions in late 2006, GM has said.
(Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit and Marilyn Thompson in
Washington; additional reporting by Simon Gardner in Mexico City
and Nick Carey in Chicago, editing by Peter Henderson)