A midlevel General Motors engineer named Ray DeGiorgio has emerged as the central figure in GM's decadelong failure to fix a defective ignition switch.
In a Senate subcommittee hearing last week, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D.-Mo., held up a copy of a document signed by DeGiorgio purportedly showing that he authorized a redesign of the faulty switch on April 26, 2006. Seven years later, in a sworn deposition, DeGiorgio denied having known anything about the change.
"He lied," McCaskill said during GM CEO Mary Barra's appearance before the Senate Commerce Committee panel last week, without naming DeGiorgio.
Yet the one-page form that the senator held up in front of Barra and a crush of TV cameras raises many more questions about how that redesign was executed and who else might have had a say in it, according to three former high-level GM engineers who reviewed the document.
The form signed by DeGiorgio is a "validation sign-off," not the document that would have authorized a part redesign under GM's protocols, say the former engineers, who didn't work on the ignition system and didn't want to be identified discussing internal company policy.
The document is an acknowledgment from the supplier, Delphi, that the part met the technical requirements that GM authorized earlier, the sources say. It's one element of a more rigorous process to execute a part redesign -- referred to inside GM as an "engineering work order" -- that would have included input from at least a dozen people across multiple GM departments, they say.
"That validation signoff is just one step at the very end. It puts a bow around everything," one of the former GM engineers told Automotive News. "By itself, it isn't an authorization by GM to change anything."
The former GM engineers say the document raises questions about whether a more extensive paper trail exists that would shed light on the 2006 part redesign, which has emerged as a key turning point.
Research by Automotive News shows that at least nine of the 13 deaths linked to the defective switch happened after the redesign, which fixed the problem of the switch's flimsiness and was first used in 2007 model cars. Had GM recalled the older cars at the time of the design change, those victims likely would have had the chance to get their cars fixed.
A timeline submitted by the company to regulators in February says the "design engineer responsible for the ignition switch ... signed a document approving changes" to the part on April 26, 2006.
The change apparently was made with such scant documentation, including the failure to assign a new part number, that years later, GM engineers investigating crashes and complaints couldn't figure out why the post-2006 switches were different.
The redesign, and DeGiorgio's role in it, drew close scrutiny last week from lawmakers during separate House and Senate subcommittee hearings. At one point, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., advised Barra to pull DeGiorgio aside and ask him: "Why did you approve a change in the ignition switch and not bring it to the level of recall?"
Yet DeGiorgio or any other engineer would have faced enormous hurdles to push a part redesign quietly through both GM and Delphi, the former engineers say.
It would have been "unheard of," the second former GM engineer says, for Delphi to have issued that validation form signed by DeGiorgio without there having been an engineering work order authorizing those changes.