UPDATED: 4/17/14 10:01 am ET - adds GM comment
DETROIT -- Delphi redesigned the ignition switch for the Cadillac SRX crossover to increase its torque about two months before making similar changes to the Chevrolet Cobalt ignition switch at the center of General Motors’ recall crisis.
The SRX modifications in February 2006 were in response to complaints by GM test drivers that a preproduction version of the car could be accidentally turned off by bumping the ignition with their knee, a Delphi manager told federal safety regulators last week. A document the manager submitted with his letter shows that GM requested the changes, which included a stronger detent plunger inside the switch.
In April 2006, a GM engineer signed off on using a stronger detent plunger in the Cobalt’s ignition switch. That change largely resolved a problem in which the ignition switch can slip into “accessory” mode while the car is moving, cutting power steering and power brakes and disabling airbags in a crash.
The engineer who approved the change in such a way that it was not reflected in company records, Ray DeGiorgio, was placed on paid leave by GM last week.
Only two times
The letter from Delphi, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posted on its Web site today, said the February and April 2006 changes were the only two times that Delphi records show that GM requested changes to increase the torque in ignition switches.
The letter said GM asked Delphi to study whether low torque or detent force could allow the Cobalt’s ignition switch to inadvertently turn off or into “accessory” mode in June 2005. That was about a month after GM opened its third internal inquiry into the issue.
All three of the inquiries were ultimately closed with no action taken beyond a bulletin to dealers. The inquiries were prompted by numerous reports of cars stalling, in some cases after the driver’s knee bumped the ignition.
Six nameplates involved
The letter shows that Delphi since 1999 supplied ignition switches for six GM nameplates besides the vehicles that have been recalled: the 2004-12 Chevrolet Malibu, 2005-10 Pontiac G6, 2003-07 Cadillac CTS and 2004-09 SRX, 2005-09 Saab 9-7X and 2007-10 Saturn Aura.
There is no indication that the design of the ignition switch in those vehicles was the same as the one being recalled. It said Delphi did not provide the switches being recalled to anyone other than GM and its suppliers.
GM did not respond to requests for comment from Automotive News on Wednesday, but spokesman Greg Martin told Bloomberg today that the SRX used a different ignition switch than the Cobalt and was integrated into the SUV in a different manner than in the compact cars. The SRX switch was changed before it went on sale. “That’s why we have pre-production vehicles,” Martin told Bloomberg.
Troubled repair kits
Separately, a chronology that NHTSA received from GM last week and posted online today reveals that mislabeled ignition-housing repair-kit boxes sent to dealers in years past contributed to a decision to recall nearly 1 million additional vehicles at a cost of $40 million.
The document also says GM plans to notify owners of 109 vehicles whose models have not been recalled that a defective switch might have been installed by a dealer. GM said records indicate the defective switches were used despite being “mechanically or electrically incompatible” with those vehicles.
GM personnel coordinating the recalls of 2003-07 model-year vehicles discovered in March that defective ignition switches had been installed by dealers in as many as 2,664 vehicles from 2008-11. It says those vehicles should have received a different switch, but the defective switch was mistakenly packed in some kits dealers received.
On March 26, the GM committee that approves recalls decided to recall 970,808 Cobalts, Chevrolet HHRs, Pontiac G5s, Pontiac Solstices and Saturn Skys from 2008-11 “out of an abundance of caution and to provide a replacement switch to all customers whose vehicles could have been impacted by the subject ignition switch,” the chronology said.