Larger cars and luxury units got more attention at General Motors when it comes to reports of faulty ignition switches than its small compact Chevrolet and Saturn cousins, according to documents the carmaker submitted to federal regulators.
Documents also show more instances when the carmaker quietly redesigned ignition switches without even recalling affected models or removing the defective ones from circulation. The newly revealed cases predate the issues involving the Chevrolet Cobalt but involve Ray DeGiorgio, the GM engineer tagged for the mess up.
The documents show chronologies related to two call backs issued June 30 covering 7.2 million Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles. They reveal that GM engineers approached sudden shutoffs as a more serious concern and quickly implemented a solution despite the absence of crashes and evidence that there is a widespread problem.
DeGiorgio even approved in 2003 a redesigned ignition switch just months after a customer with "approximately 50 keys and a set of brass knuckles" attached to the ignition key of a Pontiac Grand Am could make car shut off if driven over a speed bump at over 30 mph.
While a dealership wasn’t able to replicate the issue, the complaint was regarded as sufficient for the vehicle’s quality brand manager to personally meet the owner. GM spokesman Alan Adler called the redesign of the part as "more routine" than what occurred with the Cobalt.
He said the redesign was not because of any safety issue, noting that part changes are not unusual. He added that engineers constantly work on a vehicle, and “don't just launch and then stop."
In 2004, DeGiorgio green-lighted the switch used in the Pontiac Grand Prix without changing the part number. GM chief executive Mary Barra remarked that the engineer’s decision not to change the part number when redesigning the ignition switch for the Cobalt in 2006 was a violation of "Engineering 101." [source: automotive news - sub. required]