The ‘Cardinal Sin’ That GM May Have Committed On Chevy Cobalt – Forbes

Posted: Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The furor surrounding General Motors’ recall of 1.6 million 2003-2007 vehicles is exposing some of the company’s long-hidden practices.

Last week, Bloomberg News reported that the company’s zeal for slashing parts prices in the 1990s resulted in a drive to match the “China Price” — the rock-bottom cost of components produced in China.

Now, Automotive News is reporting that GM may have committed “a cardinal sin” on the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion, when it re-engineered the cars’ faulty ignition, but did not create a new part number.

The step, detailed by the publication in interviews with former engineers and through court documents, was described as a significant violation of GM, and auto industry protocol. By failing to create a new part number for the re-designed ignition, GM stymied its own engineers’ investigation into problems with the cars.

Automakers keep track of minute details about automobiles. Any change in a vehicle can affect the entire production chain, from the way the car is built on the assembly line, to testing procedures and record keeping, and of course, to prices. Companies know the specifics of their models, down to fractions of an inch.

So, it’s head-scratching why GM might have made such a significant change, but did not disclose it, even internally. The faulty part is linked to 34 crashes that resulted in 12 deaths.

According to Mike Collas and Nick Bunkley in Automotive News,  GM authorized a redesign of the ignition part in 2006, eight years before the recall. The change was made so discreetly — without a new part number — that employees investigating complaints of Ions and Cobalts stalling didn’t know about it until late last year.

“Changing the fit, form or function of a part without making a part number change is a cardinal sin,” said one of the engineers who spoke with the publication. The engineer, who did not work on the Cobalt, added, “It would have been an extraordinary violation of internal processes.”

2005-2008 Chevrolet Cobalt photographed in Col...

The Chevrolet Cobalt’s ignition was changed in 2006, but there was no new part number. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 2012, GM engineers could not figure out why the reports the company was getting of frontal crashes without airbag deployment involved only 2007 and earlier models. Finally, an outside expert hired by GM in April 2013 figured out that the switch had been changed for production during the 2007 model year.

A GM spokesman declined comment to Automotive News about the report. GM has retained an independent investigator to look into the circumstances surround the defective ignitions, and report to its board of directors.

GM Chief Executive Mary Barra is scheduled to testify before Congress on April 1 about the ignition recalls. Although they happened long before she became CEO this winter, Barra will still be held accountable for providing an explanation of the way GM did business.




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