An engineer General Motors Co. has put on leave approved a work-around in small-car models recalled this year for ignition defects that can deactivate air bags, according to documents released by a U.S. congressional panel.
Ray DeGiorgio “agreed to implement change without changing” a GM part number, according to a May 27, 2006, correspondence from supplier Delphi Automotive that was released Friday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Separate documents show that GM said in 2007 that it saw no problems with patterns of non-working air bags noted by regulators in 2005 and 2007, and that DeGiorgio suggested in 2012 that the ignition switches be replaced only if customers brought their cars into dealerships.
The defect has been linked to 13 deaths in accidents when the cars lost power and air bags didn’t deploy.
GM, based in Detroit, this week suspended DeGiorgio and one other engineer. Gary Altman led the engineering team working on the Chevrolet Cobalt, one of the affected cars, and rejected a fix because it was too expensive and would take too long, previously released documents indicated. DeGiorgio led the team that designed the faulty switch and quietly greenlighted a fix to it.
The document release comes after a pair of congressional hearings over GM recalls that have included testimony from Chief Executive Mary Barra.
As regulators followed up on reports that air bags in some Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions didn’t deploy, GM said in 2007 that it saw no issues in patterns noted by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2005 and 2007.
A Sept. 5, 2007, email from Gregory Magno, then the chief of the agency’s Defects Assessment Division, to his colleagues said the regulator “perceives a pattern of non-deployments in these vehicles that does not exist in their peers.”
GM is replacing ignition-lock cylinders on 2.2 million older small cars it recalled in the U.S. for defects that can cause them to slip out of the run position.
The cheaper fix GM chose was estimated to cost $14.2 million, less than the $37.7 million for a full ignition-switch replacement, according to an internal company document released Friday.
Worldwide, 2.59 million vehicles have been recalled.
GM said it expects to take a first-quarter charge of $1.3 billion, primarily for the cost of recall-related repairs that may lead to the automaker’s first quarterly loss in more than four years.