The faulty ignition switches that General Motors had knowledge of faulty ignition switches in several models of its vehicles, which have been linked to 13 deaths, could have been fixed for a mere $1 more per car, according to a GM document.
“Whether drug or auto maker, companies have a responsibility to test and inspect the products they intend to market and sell to the American public,” said Megan McBride, defective product attorney with Levin, Papantonio P.A. “There is a blatant negligence associated with the issues regarding this company.”
GM CEO Mary Barra testified before the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce about the faulty ignition switches. Barra was grilled about why her company didn’t recall the 2.6 million vehicles carrying the defective part for over a decade after the company first noticed the defect. The faulty ignition switch led to engine cutoffs and disabled airbags, power steering, and power brakes.
An unreleased document held by Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) estimated the repair costs at nearly half of GM’s estimates, 57 cents per car. News organizations were unable to obtain the document, but Reuters managed to obtain emails dating back to the early 2000s regarding the faulty ignition switches. Officials debated about whether or not to even make the change which they estimated to about 90 cents per car plus $400,000 in tooling costs.
GM engineer John Hendler said in the emails that the Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions that were recalled this year were to maintain the old, faulty switches “until the piece cost can be eliminated or significantly reduced.”
GM eventually changed the switch in 2006 but the company neglected to follow its own protocol. According to Delphi, the company that produced the part, the new switch had a sturdier design, however the force needed to activate it was “still below GM’s original specifications.” The new switches authorized by GM had a new actuator spring that increased the force required for its activation. Procedural negligence interefered with the transition.
The new switches should have come with a new part number, but they didn’t. Engineers and officials also failed to properly fill out the required “validation sign-off” paperwork regarding the part change. Many required fields on the document, like purchase order number and “validation engineer,” were left blank or marked “N/A.”
GM engineers and managers did not make themselves available to comment on the defective switches when contacted by news organizations.