9 revelations from GM’s recall chronology – USA TODAY
The chronology of events leading to General Motors’ massive ignition switch recall revealed a number of points over more than 10 years at which there were opportunities to prevent subsequent crashes and deaths if more effort had been made to connect the dots and better decisions had been made.
The toll now is 33 crashes and 13 deaths linked to the recall of 1.37 million vehicles in the U.S., plus an additional 253,519 in Canada and Mexico.
DEATHS DOUBLE: GM widens faulty ignition recall
The company admitted as much on Tuesday in a statement from GM North America President Alan Batey: “The chronology shows that the process employed to examine this phenomenon was not as robust as it should have been. Today’s GM is committed to doing business differently and better. We will take an unflinching look at what happened and apply lessons learned here to improve going forward.”
“We are deeply sorry and we are working to address this issue as quickly as we can.”
Here are nine missed chances to act sooner revealed in the chronology:
• 2004, GM could have fixed this before it sold a single Cobalt: GM concedes it knew in 2004, before launching the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt, that the ignition switch might inadvertently move from “run” to “accessory,” stalling the engine and cutting power to safety systems. A company engineer had the problem testing the soon-to-be-launched car and engineers proposed several solutions, but because of “lead time required, cost, and effectiveness of each” solution, none was adopted and the car went on sale with the faulty switch.
• 2005, a partial fix was proposed — but not adopted. Engineers suggested a simple change in the key from a slot to a round hole to ease stress on the switch — a solution GM later adopted – but initial approval later was canceled. It did send dealers a bulletin telling them to modify existing keys with an insert and to tell owners to take extra items off their keychains — but only if customers came in complaining of stalling problem on the Cobalt. Only 474 owners got the inserts, GM warranty data showed.
• 2005, GM knew it wasn’t just the Cobalt with the risk. Later that year, an updated bulletin was sent to dealers, expanding the models and years of vehicles involved – including all built with the same switch. Those are now the vehicles and models years recalled in the past two weeks.
• 2006, GM OK’d a better switch, but didn’t make it so mechanics could identify it. The engineer in charge of the ignition switch approved a new design by supplier Delphi, but the new design continued to use the same part number as the one it replaced. That means it wouldn’t have been obvious to the company or to a dealer or repair shop whether a switch was the older design or the, presumably safer, newer configuration.
• 2007, new switch goes in new cars? GM believes — but says in the chronology that it is not sure when — that during this vehicle model year the improved switch finally was being used on the assembly line for new cars.
• 2007, GM gets first report of fatal crash. Federal safety officials tell GM that a 2005 fatal Cobalt crash involved a switch that malfunctioned and airbags that failed to deploy. GM said it didn’t know about the crash until informed by the officials. And only then does GM assign an engineer to track Cobalt crashes where the airbags fails.
• 2009, GM finally adopts new key design from 2005. Keys now are made in the way first proposed in 2005 — with a hole and not a slot.
• 2013, GM determines the original switch wasn’t made right. GM determines, now years after the fact, that the switches made before the 2006 modifications failed to meets its design specifications.
• 2014, at last a recall — and then another. On Feb. 13 GM recalls the Cobalt and nearly identical Pontiac G5 — less than half the cars using the potentially faulty ignition switch. On Feb. 25, it adds the rest of the vehicles with the part — all those mentioned back in the years-earlier heads-up to dealers. All 1.62 million throughout North America will get a new ignition switch to make sure the car doesn’t stall and lose its airbags.