GM to unveil details of Valukas recall probe – USA TODAY
General Motors plans to make public Thursday morning details of an internal probe by outside lawyer Anton Valukas, hired by GM to find the failings within the automaker that delayed for more than a decade a recall of deadly ignition switches linked to 13 deaths.
Consensus expectations are that the report by Valukas, a former U.S. Attorney, will exonerate GM CEO Mary Barra, who took the post Jan. 15. She has said repeatedly she knew nothing about the faulty switches until just before the February recall.
But the company itself — at least before it went through a government-scripted bankruptcy reorganization in 2009 — is expected to be damned by Valukas’ close look at its bureaucracy. Safety issues weren’t given priority, and the financial condition of the company in the period was, in Barra’s term, “poor,” putting emphasis on cutting costs and surviving.
GM is billing the session as an “ignition switch recall update” by Barra to GM employees worldwide, followed by conferences with investment analysts and the media.
During tough questioning, Barra told a U.S. House subcommittee on April 1 that she had hired Valukas “to conduct a thorough and unimpeded investigation of the actions of General Motors. He has free rein to go where the facts take him, regardless of the outcome.
“The facts will be the facts. Once they are in, my management team and I will use his findings to help assure this does not happen again. We will hold ourselves fully accountable.”
Former GM CEO Dan Akerson has said he, too, was in the dark about the potentially deadly switches.
GM documents show a reference to a problem with the switch in 2001, when an engineer developing the 2003 Saturn Ion noted that the switch could unexpectedly move out of the “run” position.
That kills the engine, cuts power assist to steering and brakes, and usually disables air bags.
The switch problem was noted again in 2003 by a technician at a dealership, who replaced the ignition switch.
And it was highlighted again in 2004 as engineer Gary Altman finalized development of the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt, similar to the Saturn Ion. Altman, in a deposition last summer that was part of a civil lawsuit against GM, recounted the switch moving out of the “run” position. He said that “could be dangerous in certain situations.”
He said that GM made a business decision not to spend on a revised switch to cure the problem.
GM switch engineer Ray DeGiorgio said in a deposition in the same lawsuit that he did not approve a change in the switch design. But documents that surfaced later show him signing off on a change and — contrary to GM policy, Barra says — didn’t assign a new part number to the new switch.
Altman and DeGiorgio are on paid leave at GM.
The lawsuit involving their depositions was settled last fall with an unspecified settlement to the parents of Brooke Melton, killed in a 2010 crash of her 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt. The Meltons have asked a court to tell GM to reconsider the settlement in light of its information that the switch was faulty.