Documents show GM's early knowledge of switch defect

Fri Apr 11, 2014 10:02pm EDT
 
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By Eric Beech, Paul Lienert and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON/DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors engineers were well aware of serious problems with ignition switches in GM small cars, but rejected several opportunities to make fixes, according to dozens of confidential documents released on Friday by a Congressional committee investigating the deadly defect.

Parts supplier Delphi Automotive also repeatedly tested switches and found they did not meet GM specifications, according to emails and other memos.

The internal documents from GM, Delphi and a U.S. safety agency chart numerous examples of switch failure, of the sort that led GM earlier this year to recall 2.6 million cars to replace defective switches now linked to at least 13 deaths.

The documents, the first tranche of some 250,000 pages, were released by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which last week grilled GM Chief Executive Mary Barra on the automaker's slow response to problems that GM first documented in 2001.

Committee Chairman Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, said the documents illustrate "failures within the system." Other lawmakers have questioned whether GM's action are criminal.

Meanwhile, 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.

Still to be answered is whether top GM executives were aware of the issues early on, as engineers struggled to pinpoint causes and solutions for ignition switches that could be turned off inadvertently with the vehicle in motion, causing the engine to stall and cutting power to steering, brakes and airbags.

GM says it is cooperating with Congress and conducting its own "unsparing" investigation of the circumstances that led to the recall.   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