Documents show GM's sluggish response to deadly defect

Fri Apr 11, 2014 5:50pm EDT
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By Eric Beech and Paul Lienert

WASHINGTON/DETROIT (Reuters) - Documents made public on Friday by a U.S. House of Representatives committee provided fresh details on General Motors Co's awareness of problems surrounding ignition switches in millions of its cars - long before the Detroit automaker recalled the vehicles.

These documents also show that federal regulators were concerned that GM dragged its heels on safety measures at a time when ignition-switch failures in some of its smaller vehicles were being linked to deaths that now total 13.

A top official with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told General Motors in a July 2013 email that the automaker was "slow to communicate, slow to act" on defects and recalls.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has collected more than 250,000 documents - mainly from GM but also from parts supplier Delphi Automotive Plc and a federal regulator - is trying to find out why it took GM more than a decade to notify the public of a safety problem linked to fatalities.

Committee Chairman Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, said the documents illustrate "failures within the system."

In February and March, GM recalled 2.6 million older cars, including Saturn Ions and Chevrolet Cobalts, due to concerns that faulty ignition switches could cause the vehicles' engines to turn off during operation. That, in turn, can prevent airbags from operating and disable power steering and power brakes.

GM supplied the committee with a document confirming the automaker in May 2002 approved the original ignition switch supplied by Delphi. The switch was used for the first time in the 2003 Ion, which went into production just three months later.

Delphi earlier told the committee that the switch, which was designed by GM engineer Ray DeGiorgio, did not meet GM's internal torque specifications in Delphi's testing of samples.   Continued...

General Motors (GM) Chief Executive Mary Barra testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on GM's recall of defective ignition switches, on Capitol Hill in Washington April 1, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque