General Motors internal probe details years of missteps on deadly ignition switch

Jun 06 2014, 09:53 IST
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General Motors' defective switches are linked to at least 13 deaths General Motors' defective switches are linked to at least 13 deaths
SummaryA 325-page report on GM's mishandling of deadly switch details missteps by employees, officials.

A 325-page report on General Motors Co's mishandling of a deadly ignition switch details missteps by employees and officials over 11 years - from lawyers who failed to heed warnings the company could be liable for punitive damages to a product safety team that tried to replicate driver complaints by driving in a company parking lot.

The long-awaited report, released Thursday morning, was prepared by Anton Valukas, chairman of GM's outside counsel Jenner & Block, who was retained by GM Chief Executive Mary Barra and the GM board of directors to conduct a wide-ranging internal investigation that reached all the way to Barra's office.

While Valukas said top GM officials, including Barra, knew few details about the defective switches linked to at least 13 deaths, his report provides previously unknown details of how officials in the carmaker's engineering, legal and public policy groups mishandled decisions at important points.

SERIES OF MISSTEPS

One series of missteps began in June 2005 when GM faced questions from reporters who had test-driven Chevrolet Cobalts and had engines stall while moving after bumping ignition switches with their knees.

In response to a question at that time, Alan Adler, a GM communications manager, told a reporter that the issue was not a safety concern, and an unflattering article appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

GM lawyers discussed how to respond. One lawyer fretted that GM could not produce a compelling response to the criticism. But Bill Kemp, who managed safety issues in the legal division and dealt with company engineers, weighed in with an email that legal did not want to be criticized that it "didn't do enough to defend a brand's new launch."

In response to media coverage of the switch issues, GM's product safety investigations division, headed by Doug Wachtel, launched an inquiry, the report said. Wachtel assigned Elizabeth Kiihr to study the switch.

But the division also "tried to recreate the problem themselves," according to the report. Wachtel and safety director Gay Kent obtained a Cobalt and drove it around the GM parking lot in Warren to see if they could replicate the knee-bumping problem. Kent tried to create friction by rubbing her jeans against the key fob, it said.

Kiihr presented her findings on June 28, 2005. She concluded that the issue was a limited concern and required no further scrutiny, the report said.

The actions of switch designer Raymond DeGiorgio, who approved a 2006 change in the internal workings of the

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