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GM Names and Fires Engineers Involved In Faulty Ignition Switch 307

Posted by Soulskill
from the bet-you-didn't-think-you'd-be-in-the-headlines-for-ignoring-an-email dept.
An anonymous reader writes 'Thirteen people have died because of faulty ignition switches in General Motors vehicles. The company has recalled 2.6 million cars, paid a $35 million fine, and set up a fund to compensate the victims. Now, an internal investigation into the incident has shown that the company was aware of the problem since 2002. 15 employees have been fired over what CEO Mary Barra calls "misconduct and incompetence." The report singles out Ray DeGiorgio, an engineer who allegedly approved a part that did not meet specifications and misled coworkers who were investigating complaints. "He actually changed the ignition switch to solve the problem in later model years of the Cobalt, but failed to document it, told no one, and claimed to remember nothing about the change."

"There's no evidence anyone else knew the switch was out-of-spec at the time, the report says; neither did DeGiorgio tell anyone when issues with the part were brought to his attention multiple times. When one engineer specifically asked DeGiorgio in 2004 whether the switch met torque specifications, DeGiorgio didn't respond. Evidence the investigators gathered showed that he started two e-mails but never sent them. ... Instead, DeGiorgio was consumed by a problem in which cars with the switch were failing to start in cold weather, something the report says was "a personal embarrassment to DeGiorgio.'"'
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GM Names and Fires Engineers Involved In Faulty Ignition Switch

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 06, 2014 @11:08AM (#47179639)

    This may not be a conspiracy, but it is an indication of a systemic, cultural failure endemic to the company.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 06, 2014 @11:16AM (#47179729)

    I don't know. Toyota had faulty firmware that killed people, and yet everyone is still flocking to buy their cheap cars.

  • by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Friday June 06, 2014 @11:19AM (#47179749)

    While I've seen some engineers do bad things because they were afraid of management, I've never seen a situation in a company this size where the organization was good but one bad engineer was able to release something terrible with no oversight. This is almost by definition of what it means to be a good organization: you shoudl not place tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of responsibility onto your wage slave, no matter how senior he is (never mind that real physical injury may be involved).

    It's always, always been bad management, frequently that went straight to the top. But then with most American car dealers we already know that. I find it amusing that they blame the unions all the time, but my two "Japanese" cars, both manufactured in America, have been excellent and are still running flawlessly 9 years later, while my two "American" cars (made in Mexico) I was happy to be rid of at 5 years.

  • by Squidlips (1206004) on Friday June 06, 2014 @11:19AM (#47179755)
    Of course.
  • by MetalliQaZ (539913) on Friday June 06, 2014 @11:22AM (#47179781)

    I'm somewhat surprised that the company named names. I suppose the result of the investigation made it clear that his intention was only to cover his own ass, which must have tipped the scales.

    Now if only we could get names of lawbreakers out of government agencies. I know it will be a cold day in Hell before that happens, but it would be nice

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 06, 2014 @11:29AM (#47179863)

    Hearing from someone that got disabled for the rest of their life because of a faulty Toyota vehicle, I tend to disagree. Toyota tried to cover up what happened repeatedly by claiming it was the mat, the brake pedal.. Anything but the real cause. Those who can no longer live the way they used to got $125 from Toyota as a sign of "good will". Yeah, sure, it wasn't firmwareâ¦

  • by Bodero (136806) on Friday June 06, 2014 @11:49AM (#47180037)

    This is almost by definition of what it means to be a good organization: you shoudl not place tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of responsibility onto your wage slave, no matter how senior he is

    Well, first of all, using the loaded term "wage slave" outs your biases, but whatever. I don't consider a salaried engineer a "wage slave," but maybe your definition includes anyone at all with a boss.

    Second, this was an ignition switch. One part out of tens of thousands. Should the CEO be signing off on every single part that goes into every one of their vehicles? That's ridiculous. A large organization requires some level of delegation, and it's reasonable to expect an engineer at DeGiorgio's level to be able to sign off on a part like this and vouch for its compliance, which he did not.

  • by hey! (33014) on Friday June 06, 2014 @11:55AM (#47180111) Homepage Journal

    But I see little to indicate that other car manufacturers have more trustworthy cultures. In a world where an automotive engineer will sell his soul for a nickel on a car that retails for over twenty-thousand dollars (in the words of a close friend who is an automotive engineer), you can't trust a car company not to kick the can down the road so they can make their quarterly profit projections.

    Nor should we have to trust them. There needs to be someone else, someone for whom the immediate effect on the company's bottom line is not paramount, keeping watch over the company's safety practices.

  • by TWX (665546) on Friday June 06, 2014 @12:12PM (#47180341)

    Why didn't these people turn off the ignition of the car?

    Two reasons that I've heard that make sense are first that it's difficult enough to try to control an out-of-control car with two hands, and second, that since many cars now don't have good old fashioned ignition keys, it may not be possible to turn off the car if the car won't cooperate.

  • by guruevi (827432) <evi @ s m o k i n g c u be.be> on Friday June 06, 2014 @12:18PM (#47180381) Homepage

    a) There was no change management?
    b) A single engineer can replace a critical component without anyone ever needing to sign off?
    c) Not answering an e-mail does not make one culpable, it merely points to a time management problem or not enough time to respond
    d) Even when an e-mail did not get answered, nobody cared enough to follow up?

    These things point to serious managerial issues. Engineers can make mistakes, covering them up and pointing the finger is a managerial issue.

  • by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Friday June 06, 2014 @12:18PM (#47180389) Journal

    13 people died in incidents somehow related to the ignition switch turning off the engine.

    This is across how many GM cars sold? Tens of millions? It looks like a non-issue to me. I mean seriously, your keyring is too heavy and so shuts off your car's engine?

    People occasionally choke on hotdogs. More people have died because of faulty hotdog design in the past year than GM has claimed in the past 20 years.

  • What "real cause"? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sjbe (173966) on Friday June 06, 2014 @12:36PM (#47180579)

    Hearing from someone that got disabled for the rest of their life because of a faulty Toyota vehicle, I tend to disagree. Toyota tried to cover up what happened repeatedly by claiming it was the mat, the brake pedal.. Anything but the real cause.

    And this "real cause" was what exactly? Seriously, be specific. What do you know that countless automotive engineers and NTSB investigators couldn't find?

    I've heard NOTHING that leads me to believe me to believe that these cases of "uncontrolled acceleration" were anything of the sort. Every example I've seen sounds exactly like people stepping on the gas when they think (mistakenly) that they are stepping on the brake. If you step on the brake it will overcome the accelerator every time no matter how hard you rev the engine. None of these vehicles are drive-by-wire - they use hydraulic braking. Same accusations were made with Audi years ago, with the same media circus.

  • by Grishnakh (216268) on Friday June 06, 2014 @12:38PM (#47180597)

    Engineers generally do what their managers tell them to. This whole thing smacks of GM trying to blame some lower-level employees and avoid upper management taking any blame.

  • by sjames (1099) on Friday June 06, 2014 @12:49PM (#47180727) Homepage

    Should the CEO be signing off on every single part that goes into every one of their vehicles?

    More than one person should be signing off. Certainly it shouldn't have even been possible to later change the design and sneak it into production without even changing the part number.

  • by alexo (9335) on Friday June 06, 2014 @01:08PM (#47180905) Journal

    Court systems cannot establish causes of engineering problems.

    Expert witnesses who get to audit the code can.

  • Just practically speaking the only way to really know if certain types of changes are effective in the real world is to try it in the real world. You can plan and evaluate until the cows come home but sooner or later you have to try the solution out for real.

    ObligatoryCommieComment: That's what's wrong with capitalism. GM's goal is to make as much profit as possible. Admitting they were wrong opens them up to having to shell out money, so there's motivation to hide facts.

    In theory, capitalism is supposed to provide reward mechanisms which improve production, but that ain't necessarily so. But it does necessarily drive corporations to drive down costs. If it's not in safety, it will be somewhere else, like maintainability.

  • by geeper (883542) on Friday June 06, 2014 @01:40PM (#47181165)
    You're right...I'm never going to get a GM...wait, they are announcing next seasons Dancing with the Stars cast, oh goody, it's my favorite... sorry, now...what were we talking about again?
  • by Man On Pink Corner (1089867) on Friday June 06, 2014 @03:57PM (#47182391)

    If it's not obvious to you that you can (and should) respond to unintentional acceleration by shoving the gearshift into neutral, you shouldn't be driving.

  • I forgot to mention that the only true solution is a kill switch like they have on motorcycles that is not controlled by firmware. In fact in the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course I took, they teach you to only turn off the bike using the switch so that it becomes second nature should you ever end up in an emergency.

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