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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 mcmonkey (96054) on Friday June 06, 2014 @11:30AM (#47179871) Homepage

    According to this NPR story:
    http://www.npr.org/2014/03/31/... [npr.org]

    Scott Oldham of Edmunds.com had a test drive of the Cobalt in 2004, with a GM engineer in the car. Multiple times Oldham's knee hit the key fob and car shut down.

    Also, a major factor preventing identification of the ignition switch issue (or at least providing plausible deniability) is the part number. GM had 2 sets of cars: one set supposedly had this issue, the other did not. Both had the same ignition switch, so if there was a difference between the two sets, the ignition switch was not it.

    Now we know the ignition switch was changed, but the part number stayed the same, making it difficult to correctly identify the issue. We're supposed to believe a single engineer was responsible for changing a part but not the part number?

    Not that it matters much to me. My car searches start with Consumer Reports reviews and reliability ratings, and so no GM car has been in consideration for a while.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 06, 2014 @11:50AM (#47180047)

    toyota allowed a man to go to prision for several years rather than admit the truth about a defect. if you think toyota didn't do everything to cover this up your kidding yourself.

    http://reason.com/blog/2010/02/22/man-got-eight-years-for-deaths

  • Praise in Public... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by jvp (27996) on Friday June 06, 2014 @11:53AM (#47180085)

    ...punish in private!

    Unlike a lot of nay-sayers, I'm a big fan of GM and will continue to buy specific products from them. However, I'm *not* a fan of this move. Always praise in public and punish in private. They should have simply released a press statement with something like, "We've determine who was responsible for this ignition switch issue, and they've been terminated or dealt with accordingly." Done. Naming them serves no purpose whatsoever.

  • by sjbe (173966) on Friday June 06, 2014 @12:05PM (#47180253)

    Because the old GM is gone. The shareholders and management switched. It's a new company with the same name and it doesn't deserve to be liable for the past company.

    "Doesn't deserve"? Gotta disagree with you there. Sure the company technically is incorporated as a "new" company and some (but not even close to all) of the management has changed but fundamentally it is still the same company. You are giving them a pass based on some legal technicalities which they do not deserve. In all practical terms it is the same company, selling the same products, under the same name, with mostly the same employees and the same facilities.

    I run a company that supplies parts to GM. (we're a Tier 3 supplier) I honestly doubt there was much if any cover up. Frankly in my experience GM is too incompetent for that. I see their engineers do stuff all the time that is borderline retarded and the company is so large it's hard to even find a person responsible for a specific issue, much less hold them accountable. While I can't say for certain either way, I tend to think the cause of this fiasco is more structural than criminal. I think this is probably a case of incompetence of such a degree that it appears as malfeasance.

  • by sjames (1099) on Friday June 06, 2014 @12:39PM (#47180613) Homepage

    What is really sick is that on the day he was granted a new trial the prosecutor tried to trick him into pleading guilty and accepting time served. When he refused, the prosecution dropped the whole thing.

    I sincerely hope he gets a great deal of money and a very public apology from Toyota, Minnesota, and the Feds (they knew about the problem too), but I'm not going to hold my breath for any of that.

  • by podmate (1115907) on Friday June 06, 2014 @01:41PM (#47181177)

    Faulty firmware? Are you referring to the brake debacle a few years ago?

    I think it's been pretty well established by know that it was all media attention driving that and Toyota really didn't have anything wrong with its vehicles.

    Established by whom? I had a Pontiac Vibe (Toyota Matrix which is based on the Toyota Corolla) with an automatic transmission and 1.8L engine and it 'suddenly accelerated' a few times before I got rid of it after 1 year of ownership because I was scared to let anyone drive the car. Pontiac and Toyota told me the sudden acceleration was because of a floor mat. There was no floor mat on the driver side of my car nor was there anything that could 'grab' the accelerator pedel. Pontiac and Toyota told me I was stamping on the gas instead of the brake. Funny, while driving my car would just take off and I could have my feet nowhere near the brake or gas pedals and the car would keep on accelerating. The brakes COULD stop the car, but if I let off the brakes the car would still take off. The way I took care of the issue was by moving the selector from drive to neutral and back to drive. Sometimes I had to do this a few times for the car to go back to normal operation. Not really very good for the transmission or engine. Pontiac and Toyota refused to listen to anything I had to say and basically told me 'sucks to be you, now please go away'. I have zero interest in ever purchasing anything made by Toyota again. I don't purchase anything made by GM either, but that is because most of their cars are poorly designed pieces of sh$t based on family experience from the late 70's to 2011. My extended family just can't learn from their mistakes.

  • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Friday June 06, 2014 @01:46PM (#47181233)

    Frankly in my experience GM is too incompetent for that. I see their engineers do stuff all the time that is borderline retarded and the company is so large it's hard to even find a person responsible for a specific issue, much less hold them accountable. While I can't say for certain either way, I tend to think the cause of this fiasco is more structural than criminal. I think this is probably a case of incompetence of such a degree that it appears as malfeasance.

    I'd like to confirm your point. My father used to run one of GMs largest suppliers. I'm not sure I'd call them incompetent. But they're large on a scale that's comparable to AT&T. They're to the point of being almost a government institution. I doubt the CEO has ANY clue at all what's going on with the engineers or the production floor. The way they work with suppliers is "You will give us X and if you don't we can switch suppliers with no notice. Sign here or don't. We don't care." and if you screw up, at all, they will literately switch suppliers in hours. Often they owned the tooling and had plenty of backup to send off to another vendor.

    I remember parts mixups resulting in my father packing suitcases full of automotive parts, boarding a residential flight and hand carrying the parts to Detroit on more than one occasion. If you have a problem, you fix it immediately, either directly or by covering it up, or GM will pull your contract and you'll be laying people off the next day.

  • by csnydermvpsoft (596111) on Friday June 06, 2014 @02:30PM (#47181695) Homepage

    If you step on the brake it will overcome the accelerator every time no matter how hard you rev the engine.

    I have a counterexample:

    5-6 years ago, I was driving my wife's 1997 Ford Taurus when the accelerator pedal stuck to the floor. I pressed the break as hard as I could (both feet and as much of my 220 pound weight that I could put on it from a seated position), but we continued to accelerate. Thankfully, I was able to put the car in neutral before we crashed into anything. I coasted to the center turn lane, put on the e-brake, and sat there calming down, with the engine redlining until I shut it off.

    I know with 100% certainty that I wasn't pressing the wrong pedal - the accelerator was still stuck to the floor after I got help from a cop to push the car into a parking lot. This was a mechanical issue (not many manufacturers were doing drive-by-wire throttle back in 1997); the engine had just been rebuilt, and the shop must have reinstalled the cable incorrectly - among other things they screwed up.

    This car was fairly old (probably 130k miles at that point), but the brakes were well-maintained, and they were four-wheel disc.

    You might be right for some - perhaps most - instances, but not 100%, as my experience proves.

  • by DomNF15 (1529309) on Friday June 06, 2014 @02:41PM (#47181797)
    What the media fails to mention is that nearly half of the fatalities related to this ignition switch problem also involved some combination of alcohol, drugs, and lack of seat belt use. Please see the latest issue of Car & Driver for more details, I just read the article last night. This is not meant to downplay the engineering/management mistakes that were made but simply to illustrate all the factors involved with the loss of life attributed to this mistake. I also own two Toyota's that only accelerate when I tell them to...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 06, 2014 @03:57PM (#47182381)

    This sort of crap has been happening with vehicles forever.

    I had a runaway problem with my '90 Jeep Cherokee. 4.10s in the axle is more than enough to defeat the brakes at WOT but throwing it into neutral and letting it bounce off the rev limiter did the trick. In this case, it was the lever arm on the throttle body that caught on a rust bubble, of all things.

    My '92 S10 blazer had the the pedal problem, except it was the interior carpet interfering with it. That I trimmed away with a knife. Prevalent enough a TSB was issued.

    My Dad's 2001 Honda Gold Wing had a recall for people flying across the parking lot. On a hot day the fan would be on constantly, draining the battery, and the computer would over-compensate (some sort of ratio without an upper limit) with a really high idle. Motorcycle clutch levers don't have enough throw for decent feathering; they always catch. The mean age of the typical GW rider may have had an influence on this, but really, even at cruise it's a quiet bike. More than enough torque to wheely in third gear, too. Brake and clutch to launch!

    My grandmother's '79 Ford station wagon with the 302 and VV carb would compensate for A/C drag with a pneumatically driven link to the throttle. It was incorrectly adjusted one winter which resulted in an interesting spring drive.

    TLDR, don't trust a machine, ever!

  • by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Friday June 06, 2014 @04:37PM (#47182749) Journal

    It's still an incredibly small statistic.

    Let's put this into perspective: people are afraid of speeding. I've seen advertisements showing skulls and children, talking about how you have a 70% chance of survival after being hit by a car at 25mph, or a 40% chance of death at 40mph (misleading: the statistics are wrong--you actually have a high chance of death or severe injury around 40mph--and the asymptote inflects around 35mph). States raising speed limits always get a huge political battle over all the dangers of driving 75mph on the Interstate, since 60mph is so very safe. We have signs on buses advertising the crackdown on speeding.

    Meanwhile, people are getting licensed with as little as 10 hours behind the wheel of a vehicle. The license test here? As prompted, use your signal and turn left. Then parallel park. Then drive to a stop sign, stop, signal, turn right. Two more stop signs, 30 feet to each. Congratulations kid, ya pass.

    Most racing schools also have advanced driving classes. These classes usually start with a discussion about vehicle dynamics, then move on to practical experience driving on closed course. Serpentine course to feel how your suspension loads, handles, and fails. Skid pads to practice skid recovery. Minor obstacle courses where you practice searching for, recognizing, predicting, and reacting to hazards. These courses teach you to handle your car in hazard situations, to recognize potential hazards before the situation becomes hazardous, and to react to hazards that come out of nowhere (idiot drivers, kids appearing from behind parked cars, etc.).

    These are all things you will encounter repeatedly while driving, but we teach none of this in driver's ed. We don't require it for licensing. We don't even put you on the road to see how you drive in traffic. Can he stop at a stop sign? Then he gets a license. Put anti-lock brakes in the car, he'll be fine. No need to prepare for rain, ice, blown-out tires, pedestrians, children, other bad drivers, or the simple consequence of encountering the limits of your car when actively reacting to any of these things.

    74 people in over a decade isn't a lot. That's 7.4 each year. Training these people for to unpredicted hazardous situations would have increased their chances of recovering or minimizing the damage, even as the brakes and steering became stiff. I've shut my engine off and back on due to a stall, in dense traffic, at 40mph; I never considered an engine restart a dangerous situation, but that's just because I've always handed it properly. I see not everyone can.

    Of course we should fix these issues. We should prevent unnecessary life-threatening hazards. I simply don't see this particular engineering issue as worthy of so much attention. It's minor, it had very low incidence of harm, and it's readily fixed. We've learned lessons from it. There are much worse things going on right in front of our faces that we're not getting outraged over, and those things are cheap to fix and causing thousands of unnecessary deaths every year.

16.5 feet in the Twilight Zone = 1 Rod Serling

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