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GM Suspends Two Engineers, Will Also Replace Ignition Lock Cylinder in Recall

April 11, 2014

General Motors Co. has suspended two engineers who played key roles in the events that led to the massive recall prompted by defective ignition switches. The Detroit-based carmaker also expanded the scope of the recall, and will now also be replacing the ignition lock cylinders of the affected vehicles.

Bloomberg has reported that Gary Altman and Ray DeGiorgio were put on paid leave amid the probe regarding the faulty ignition switches. Both engineers played a huge part in the events that resulted in GM’s recall, which affected more than 2 million older model vehicles.

Altman was the head of the engineering team that worked on the Chevrolet Cobalt, which is one of the affected vehicles. He test-drove a Cobalt and accidentally switched off the engine when his knee hit the ignition. Though engineers proposed solutions to address the problem, he considered none of them as “an acceptable business case.” Documents show that he rejected a fix because it was time-consuming and pricey.

DeGiorgio was the head of the design team responsible for the defective ignition switch. In 2006, he quietly authorized a redesign of the switch after car columnists and customers complained about the specific part. GM did not know about the improvement until about six years later. In a 2013 deposition, DeGiorgio said that he was not aware that the part had been changed.

In the press release announcing GM’s newest Speak Up for Safety internal campaign, Chief Executive Mary Barra confirmed that two engineers were indeed placed on paid leave. Barra did not name the engineers, simply saying that they were put on leave after a briefing with Anton Valukas, who is overseeing the internal investigation.

“This is an interim step as we seek the truth about what happened,” said Barra. “It was a difficult decision, but I believe it is best for GM.”

During last week’s Senate hearing, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) held a copy of a document that proves that DeGiorgio did greenlight the redesign of the flawed switch. She said that DeGiorgio lied under oath.

“It’s about time,” McCaskill said in response to the announcement of the engineers’ suspension. “This marks a small step in the right direction for GM to take responsibility for poor — and possibly criminal — decisions that cost lives and put millions of American consumers at risk.”

Meanwhile, GM will be replacing more than just the faulty ignition switches. In a separate statement, the automaker said that the cylinders may cause the removal of the ignition key while the engine is running. The removal could cause a rollaway or crash, putting vehicle occupants and pedestrians in harm’s way. GM already knows of one rollaway incident in the parking lot which resulted in a crash and an injury claim.

Hence, GM will also be replacing the ignition lock cylinders. Dealerships will also be ordered to cut and reprogram new keys if necessary. The redesigned key covered by the cylinder recall comes with a new keyring design that replaces the old slot keyring one.

Photo credit: © General Motors CC BY-NC

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