| WASHINGTON, June 5
WASHINGTON, June 5 A 325-page report on General
Motors Co's mishandling of a deadly ignition switch
details missteps by employees and officials over 11 years - from
lawyers who failed to heed warnings the company could be liable
for punitive damages to a product safety team that tried to
replicate driver complaints by driving in a company parking lot.
The long-awaited report, released Thursday morning, was
prepared by Anton Valukas, chairman of GM's outside counsel
Jenner & Block, who was retained by GM Chief Executive Mary
Barra and the GM board of directors to conduct a wide-ranging
internal investigation that reached all the way to Barra's
While Valukas said top GM officials, including Barra, knew
few details about the defective switches linked to at least 13
deaths, his report provides previously unknown details of how
officials in the carmaker's engineering, legal and public policy
groups mishandled decisions at important points.
SERIES OF MISSTEPS
One series of missteps began in June 2005 when GM faced
questions from reporters who had test-driven Chevrolet Cobalts
and had engines stall while moving after bumping ignition
switches with their knees.
In response to a question at that time, Alan Adler, a GM
communications manager, told a reporter that the issue was not a
safety concern, and an unflattering article appeared in the
Cleveland Plain Dealer.
GM lawyers discussed how to respond. One lawyer fretted that
GM could not produce a compelling response to the criticism.
But Bill Kemp, who managed safety issues in the legal division
and dealt with company engineers, weighed in with an email that
legal did not want to be criticized that it "didn't do enough to
defend a brand's new launch."
In response to media coverage of the switch issues, GM's
product safety investigations division, headed by Doug Wachtel,
launched an inquiry, the report said. Wachtel assigned Elizabeth
Kiihr to study the switch.
But the division also "tried to recreate the problem
themselves," according to the report. Wachtel and safety
director Gay Kent obtained a Cobalt and drove it around the GM
parking lot in Warren to see if they could replicate the
knee-bumping problem. Kent tried to create friction by rubbing
her jeans against the key fob, it said.
Kiihr presented her findings on June 28, 2005. She concluded
that the issue was a limited concern and required no further
scrutiny, the report said.
The actions of switch designer Raymond DeGiorgio, who
approved a 2006 change in the internal workings of the defective
switch but never changed the part number, are spelled out in
great detail in the report.
DeGiorgio talked with the internal investigators on May 7
and 8, yet he repeatedly said he could not remember key details,
including his signature on an order authorizing supplier Delphi
Automotive PLC to alter the part, the report said.
REVIEWED MILLIONS OF DOCUMENTS
The investigation, which involved a review of 41 million
documents and 350 interviews, concluded "there is no question"
that DeGiorgio knew he was approving a change in the switch.
While DeGiorgio did not share his knowledge of the ignition
switch change with other GM employees, a footnote in the report
indicates that there "were a handful of other engineers in other
departments" who were copied on emails describing the changed
part. It suggests they simply did not process the information.
The report does not name these individuals and says they did not
hold key positions like DeGiorgio.
The report casts a harsh light on the role played by GM
engineer Brian Stouffer, who led a lengthy internal
investigation into switches that dragged on for two and a half
In the last phase of his inquiry, Stouffer, who retired
earlier this year, received emails from Delphi, the switch
supplier, that pinpointed when a parts change had been made with
a change in the parts number.
Stouffer's investigation, which ended in late 2013, was
overseen by three senior managers, all of whom were detailed in
the Valukas report and all of whom have since left the company.
Attempts to reach Stouffer were unsuccessful. The Valukas
team interviewed him for the report.
The report criticized Stouffer for misreading internal
accident data during his long-running inquiry. It said he missed
fatality reports that might have helped GM identify problems
with ignition in the Saturn Ion - issues that were not spotted
until February 2014, after GM did its first ignition switch
recall of the Cobalt.
(Reporting by Marilyn W. Thompson in Washington; Editing by Ken