Ex-GM engineers say discreet switch redesign was a major violation of protocol

Article by Andrew Christian, on March 25, 2014

Former high-level engineers at General Motors divulged that a discreet redesign of the ignition switches in 2006 was an extraordinary violation of internal process. In the mid-1990s, GM decided to pull design work for ignition and turn-signal switches from its suppliers, placing them under the care of its own employees.

One of the first in-house designs was of the ignition switches for the Saturn Ion and Chevrolet Cobalt, which are now the subject of a massive recall from the carmaker covering 1.6 million 2003-2007 vehicles fitted with the defective part. Faulty ignition switches has now also been linked to at least 34 crashes and 12 deaths in the past decade.

"We wanted to have control over the design," Ray DeGiorgio, the lead design engineer for the Ion and Cobalt ignition switch, said in an April 2013 deposition obtained by Automotive News. Some former GM engineers say that the carmaker’s reports to regulators detail a sequence of events that was basically at odds with standard operating procedure.

According to three people who were high-level engineers for GM at the time, the action of not assigning the new part number would have been highly unusual. "Changing the fit, form or function of a part without making a part number change is a cardinal sin," said one of the engineers. "It would have been an extraordinary violation of internal processes."

Lawmakers and federal safety regulators probing GM’s handling of the recall may question why the carmaker authorized a redesign of the ignition switch in 2006. They may also question why redesign was made discreetly and without a new part number -- something that internal investigation into complaints of Ions and Cobalts stalling were not aware of until late 2013. [source: automotive news - sub. required]

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