General Motors (GM) approved ignition switches that are being blamed for multiple crashes, deaths, and injuries even though the mechanisms failed to meet the company’s specifications, the company that supplied the part told congressional investigators.
According to documents released ahead of an April 1 testimony by GM’s CEO Mary Barra, Delphi Automotive noted that tests revealed the ignition switches’ torque performance fell below the target set by GM, but the automaker allowed them to be used in its new Chevrolet Cobalt and five other models.
The faulty ignition switch is liable to allow the key to switch off the engine while the vehicle is in motion, immobilizing the steering and brakes and preventing the airbags from deploying in a crash.
General Motors finally started recalling vehicles with the defective ignition switches in February, more than a decade after the company became aware the part was potentially deadly, especially to drivers who had multiple keys or key chains attached to their ignition key.
Court documents show that GM engineers and other company officials knew about the ignition switch problem as early as 2001. Other records submitted to the House Energy and Commerce Committee show GM engineers considered various repairs:
“Engineers considered increasing or changing the ignition switch ‘torque effort,’ but were advised by the ignition switch engineer that it is ‘close to impossible to modify the present ignition switch’ as the switch is ‘very fragile and doing any further changes will lead to mechanical and/or electrical problems,'” a 2005 entry in the congressional committee’s chronology reads.
Why GM approved ignition switches that fell short of its specifications and then failed to recall the switches when it knew they were causing vehicles to crash are two of the puzzling company actions the House of Representatives committee seeks to understand in this week’s hearing. Investigators will also try to determine what “GM’s assessment of the implications for performance and safety” was, according to the memo.